Inner and Outer Wilderness
We inhabit, in one way or another, and for most of our lives, the built environment. In this environment, we are surrounded by many people and many ‘things’: by buildings and vehicles and machines, endless sounds and activities, visual stimulation, and all manner of objects designed to make our lives more manageable and comfortable, more comprehensible and convenient. We are constantly being drawn into an externally constructed reality, where we are able (to a large extent) to manipulate and control our activities, to stay within our ‘comfort zones’, to ignore or avoid what we do not wish to engage with – either externally or internally. Our consciousness is largely focused outwardly, where the boundaries of the built environment create buffers between ourselves and that which is not immediately visible for us – either externally or internally.
In the built environment, we are surrounded also by opportunities for exploration and self-exploration through access to the myriad and abundant choices offered in terms of ‘culture’: to music and drama and poetry and film and exhibitions (often an endless variety of possibilities to explore meaning through the arts), through conversation, debate, through other forms of dialogue and learning, and through a variety of therapeutic processes and approaches. Stimulation from the outside which enables journeys within.
Here in the cities and towns, the rhythms and cycles of day and night, summer and winter, solstice and equinox, can easily pass by unnoticed: we have various ways of keeping ourselves cool in summer and warm in winter; of lengthening hours of light with electric lights; even more easily can we become unaware of the movement of the moon in its monthly cycle, the movements of the stars and planets from one month to the next. More importantly, in the busy-ness of our lives in the built environment, we have lost touch with how these natural cycles and movements affect us. Time is measured rather through the punctuations and interruptions of diary appointments; of deadlines and outcomes: time and rhythm have become divorced from one another – they exist as separate entities. There is a strange paradox here: as we are bombarded by sensory overload – both visually and in terms of sound – we feel ‘safe’ and in command of our life choices. And yet this fragmented reality of sight and sound, of disparate and discrete activities, of division and distraction, ultimately tends to limit us to realms of a rational consciousness – where the choice of boundedness, of staying with the known, of blocking out the unknown, is always present and invariably a priority. So where we are surrounded by a seemingly infinite number of possibilities and choices (largely disconnected from one another); where we feel – by and large – in control of the choices we make, in fact, the (hidden) constraints, the barriers to a centred and layered interiority are barely known or sensed by us. We no longer know what we cannot see with the physical eye.
Moving away from the built environment, we enter the domain of nature: into the domain of silence (beyond the calls of the wild), of stillness (beyond the constant unfolding movement of growth and decay); of wholeness (beyond the majestic intensity of diversity), beyond the boundaries of the familiar and the known, and into the unknown, the uncharted territories. In the outer wilderness, we find continuity of expression which is uninterrupted by anything other than its own natural and organic rhythms and movement. Plants grow and die; animals are born and mature; animals and insects are prey for those stronger than themselves. Yet they are all part of a moving, ever-changing wholeness.
Such is the generous bounty and offerings from nature in the wilderness. We are given the gift of finding ourselves; through the unerring plenitude, the infinite and uninterrupted variety of expression of the wholeness of nature, we are able to find our own wholeness. The unending outer horizons offer us a passage inwards, towards our centre, towards the unending depths of our being, to seeing and understanding ourselves through the unfolding revelations of that which is unconscious within us, but which defines our sense of self as we interact in the outer world. As we travel deeper and further within, so our understanding, our self-knowledge expands and deepens, we are able to embrace our own depths more fully. And consequently our engagement with the world is deepened, as it comes from a centre of enhanced depth and breadth.
Wilderness spaces are becoming more and more precious as the world becomes more and more fragmented; as more and more land becomes used for housing an ever-growing global population, and for short-term utilitarian gains. The price for the silence, for the solitude offered in these protected areas becomes higher and higher. In the wake of the disrespectful greed of our current world reality, we find fewer and fewer places where we can truly and deeply replenish ourselves through the ineffable communion with that silence beyond all silence, the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is in this quality of silence, and of peace, of the still centre within ourselves, that we are able to find an understanding of ourselves, and of our world, that informs and enables a response, a responsiveness, a responsibility towards a more whole future. Access to the outer wilderness provides the possibility of access to the wellsprings of our own possibilities – and that of our collective future.
From Thomas Merton we learn that God created the desert “simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men [sic] into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert is therefore the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself …”
towerland wilderness2At Towerland, we have created a space which is located within and provides physical access into the wilderness. This has meant finding that delicate balance between access and wildness, between creating a space for human habitation which offers an experience of the wilderness, yet which is not overwhelming. Simple and beautiful accommodation which is – in all senses – in harmony with its environment; paths which lead into the mountains; myriad spaces to observe and experience the beauty of the surroundings. We have attempted to honour and maintain the natural rhythms and the silence as far as possible by not installing electricity and by using our own life-filled water. To let the outer wilderness activate our inner wilderness, to reach into our imagination, to enable a slow unfolding into deeper spaces of our own understanding and becoming.
From Thomas Merton, once again, we are reminded of the importance of silence, of the value of what we can gain in the inner and outer wildernesses:
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by non-violent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes one’s work for peace. It destroys one’s inner capacity of peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of one’s work because it kills the roots of inner wisdom which make work fruitful.”