August 22, 2011 § 11 Comments

Wild and Still.

Wild. I have been somewhat obsessed with this word lately. Maybe it’s because our own summer is a little wild with most of our days spent outside and the two boys growing like wild flowers. Today, Oliver asked if I had put Gus’ clothes in his drawer because they were all too small for him. I stared at Oliver in his too-small shorts. “No,” I said. “Those are yours.” Were yours. Were: that is the word that is used most often when you are a parent. Once you were my baby. Now you are my boy.

Wild is also this month’s Jivamukti yoga theme. The way Jiva classes work is that each month, the teachers design their classes around a universal theme. What’s interesting is to see how each teacher explores this theme differently. Or, to see how a teacher evolves her classes during the month. My favorite teacher, Kathy, started out this month teaching an uninhibited class. She played “Wild Wild West” and had her students dance. When I took her class last week, she admitted she was tired of that. “I’ve been thinking about wild animals,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about how sensitive and still they are. How they listen.” The class she gave that day focused on listening – to ourselves, to each other, to the world. “In nature,” she said, while we were in pigeon pose, “One bird begins to fly and they all follow. One giraffe begins to run and they all organize around that single moment. They all act as one because they know all is one.”

I have been thinking about my own wild self, about how I haven’t paid very much attention to it. “Shh,” I always say. “Be quiet.” Perhaps, I am worried that if I listen, I will become so completely out of control that my life will become unmanageable. Perhaps, I believe that my wild self cannot be trusted.

In my late teens and twenties, I suffered from pretty much every eating disorder that has ever been diagnosed. It’s not something I really want to write about, but as I get older, I realize that of the thousands of women I have met, maybe three have been immune from eating disorders. Food seems to be the universal sword by which we women wage war upon ourselves. “I am not enough,” is what we are really saying when we eat too little or too much. I am so useless and unworthy that I don’t deserve to eat. Or, I am so worthless, I need to be filled with something other than myself. It’s all the same thing: We don’t believe we deserve to be here. We don’t believe we can be trusted.

This Saturday, I took Jivamukti from Hari (or “Uncle Hari” as he is affectionately named). Hari talked about wild. He talked about our relentlessly wild minds. He talked about the chaos that ensues when do whatever we want. He talked about the beauty of rules to tame our wildness. Specifically he spoke about the Yoga Sutras, about the Yamas of Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), and Brahmacarya (moderation). He talked about how within those rules, we can experience great freedom and how sometimes, it is the rules themselves that enable us to be truly wild. His words reminded me of what Shakespeare once wrote about the sonnet, that it was because of their strict structure that he could come up with such lyric poetry.

On Sunday, when Scott went out for a morning bike ride and threw his ClifShot wrapper away, he discovered a raccoon in our trash can. All I know is, it’s good he found it and not me. Nothing fills me with fear more than small North American mammals and rodents. And a raccoon looks like both of these combined.

“Anyone want to come help me get the raccoon out of the trash can?” Scott asked when he came home.

Oliver and I both shook our heads.

“I’ll go!” Gus called and followed his dad outside in his bare feet.

Oliver and I stood inside by the window and watched as Scott maneuvered the trash can and leaned it on its side, away from the house. Gus came dancing in a few seconds later, he eyes bright. He held out his arms. “The raccoon was this big!” he said.

There seems to be this balance in dealing with our own wild minds, and it’s one I haven’t quite figured out yet. On one hand, if we let ourselves go completely, life becomes crazy. We can’t parent our children or successfully sustain any type of relationship. On the other hand, if we force too many rules upon ourselves, we end up hiding out somewhere in the dark, eating trash. The raccoon reminded me of what Anne Lamott once said about her own thoughts: “My mind remains a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” It reminded me of what Rolf Gates says about compassion: “Starving people eat garbage. And sometimes we are those starving people.”

After a month of “Wild” Jivamukti, I am no closer to understanding the term. I think of wild horses and snow-capped mountains and wild geese landing on a lake during my friend’s beautiful wedding.  I think of children who crave rules and structure and a rhythm to flow into. I think of myself as I approach the age of 40, which is undoubtably the beginning of middle age. I think of the lack of rules and structure and rhythm we have for midlife unless it is the sting of a Botox needle or the sound of a wine bottle opening or the pain of a breakdown.

But there has to be more than this, right? RIGHT???

When I was young, my father listened to Joseph Campbell’s audiotapes while we were in the car, which now, I am grateful for. Somewhere in my brain are the transcripts to all of those tapes. In my mind, I can hear Campbell talking about the importance of ritual and how our current society is sorely lacking, especially in adolescence.

He didn’t speak about middle age that I remember, but that period of life is most certainly lacking in ritual as well. I knew how to be wild in my twenties. I know how to be wild with and about my children now that I am in my thirties. But how am I supposed to be wild in my forties? How do I know which voice to listen to? Is it the one who tells me follow the rules or is it the one who tells me to abandon them and carve my own path.

Luckily for me, as these things go, I received a message, just when I needed it. It was from someone I do not yet know who read my “Heart” post. She shared the following poem she wrote when her own child was a toddler, and in her poem, I found that harmonious balance between our wild nature and our civilized selves. I found that connection with another soul, which I am thinking may be the only ritual that counts for anything.

What could be a better symbol of the relationship between savage and civilized than our own wild hearts beating in their cages of bone?

Thank you Holly.


In the dawn of my awakening
I reach over
and put my hand
over the soft skin of her small chest
over her tiny heart

I feel it beat with strength, with rhythmic determination
that same tiny heart that beat inside my belly not so long ago
that beats faster while she pedals her two-wheeler
that same growing heart
that closes a little more with each life lesson learned

Eckhart Tolle tells us to be quiet, to be still
to open to the extraordinary moments, that define presence
that life really is beyond our senses, beyond our consciousness
and that she and I, you and I
are really one

So be quiet, be still –
listen and feel the beating of her heart,
my heart, your own heart
the pulse of the universe
and the voice of God

-Holly Brook Cotton 7/24/08


Tagged: , ,

§ 11 Responses to Wild

  • Laura says:

    Stunning! I love these journeys we take with you. As you approach 40, you are ripening into a true wild, wise woman!

    Did o know that there is a Hindu tradition of celebrating the sixtieth birthday as the mid-life? I am a bit more conservative, figuring 108 is a healthy, normal lifespan. In which case, you have many more years of wild to cultivate.

    Was it Mary Oliver who wrote, “I am giving up nice, and becoming a create of wild?

  • Alana says:

    Gorgeous poem and a lovely complement to your words, which always make me think-feel in a new way.

    As I enter the 6 months preceding my 40th birthday, the voice that is the strongest, the one I listen to more and more often, is the one that pulls me toward my truest self, the one that allows me to feel the most joy and stay the most present. It is the voice of love, of healing, of purpose. It is the voice of “I am lovable, I am worthy, I am enough”. It is my voice – not that of my father, mother, lover or abuser. It is mine and I am learning to listen, and to trust.

  • Boy, this post really spoke my language. So often I just feel like I’m floundering–treading water but not going anywhere. And I don’t know if the answer is to slow down or to speed up. Why is it that I can never figure this out?

    Re: the eating disorders. I had one in high school/college. I remember a girl in my dorm, who struggled to stay slim, asked me once, “How do you do it?” I shrugged and said, “I just tell myself I don’t deserve to eat.” She looked at me like I was Batshit Crazy, and looking back on it, I was.

    That Lamott quote is one of my very favorites. So often I feel the same way–baaaaad neighborhood!

  • Kate says:

    as always, so happy to arrive here, to think about you, and myself in these days of reforming identity. I think the wilderness of the forties is going to be all about the same things it is today, the self, the kids, the working around and with them, the questing, the listening. all the same, all the differences… yeah?

  • Lindsey says:

    Again, as always, you’ve spoken right to the heart of me … to the tension between wildness and tameness, to my own increasingly-loud roaring desire to liberate my wild voice. I’ve spent a lot of years in the cage, which I know you can relate to. What a beautiful poem, too.
    And just like Kitch, that Lamott quote is one I return to over and over. xox

  • Kathy says:

    A good friend of mine, now passed on, always reminded me at just the right points in my life, “You are a daughter of the King!” We are descendants of royalty, we have the divine within, we are worthy.

  • Christa says:

    This is just stunningly beautiful, accurate, true to life and to our questions.

    As I am a dozen years ahead of you, this really hit home. “I think of the lack of rules and structure and rhythm we have for midlife unless it is the sting of a Botox needle or the sound of a wine bottle opening or the pain of a breakdown.” I am trying so hard, and trying so hard NOT to try so hard to find a different way, a new path for myself, for you, for all of us.

    So while you are running wild with your boys today, I’ll be in the studio, running wild with my paintbrush, designing a new landscape.

    Love and thanks to you, my friend.

  • I so love your writing. Thank you for this post filled with wisdom and thoughtfulness.

    Personally, I cling to what every woman over 40 has told me and what my husband and I vowed on our wedding day: “the best is yet to come”.

  • Interesting that you’re confronting the very questions at 39 that I’m grappling with at 52! Makes me wonder if I’ve just been in denial for the last decade or so. As usual, you eloquently, painfully capture the truth and then hold it up to the light for us all to see. Reading your words here, realizing that we are grappling with the same fears, is a comfort, a reminder that we are all struggling together, daring to discover more of what it means to be a human being.

  • Wolf Pascoe says:

    Rumi says we should be quiet because we’re drunk, and this is the edge of the roof. I say here’s some wildness: learn to belly dance, to tango, to rhumba–

  • Ari says:

    Just finished Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now”. Amazing! Feel like I have just discovered a whole new world. I am sure you read that book already.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Wild at Walking on My Hands.


%d bloggers like this: