Wild Contemplation

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Lucy Mae would never survive in the wild. She spends her days lazing in the sun, eating the equivalent to doggie bonbons, and being adored. Occasionally, a walk around the neighborhood might yield a great bunny chase or a leaf stalking. But this dog has no idea what it means to be wild. Contemplating her environment consists of wondering when the next cheezy-poo will drop.

I could not help considering my beloved canine’s handicaps when reading Gerald May’s discussion of the hunting styles of wild cats verses domestic cats in this week’s chapter of his book, The Wisdom of the Wilderness. Chapter four, Cicada Song, is all about being present in the moment--experiencing total awareness of one’s immediate environment. May argues that, as a society, we have lost this ability due to an overemphasis on focused achievement. May relates how, on his first camping trip, the song of the cicadas was so loud it kept him from taking a much needed nap (this was the day after his bear encounter in the night). At first, he responds with anger, even shouting at the insects to be quiet. But as he goes about his camping business, he gradually comes to accept this continual singing and even gets out his drum in an attempt to play along.

May feels a bit awkward with this at first. Here I am, a middle-aged, middle-class white man from the suburbs sitting by a fire all alone in the mountains with a drum on my lap. I have no context for it, no tradition, no meaning. These last words struck me. Perhaps this is what has captured me about this man’s story--the author’s willingness to go where he has never been--that place of no context, no tradition. I found myself wondering if this willingness might just be what allows some to embrace meaning more than others. May begins to drum in rhythm with the cicada song and senses the creatures adjusting their song to his. …I cannot adequately express how ordinary it felt, like the simple act of taking a breath and relaxing, entering this real here-and-now moment, letting things be exactly what they are, joining the plain truth of what simply is. This contemplation, May contends, is what allows us to experience the fullness of life. …contemplation is a state of awareness that is, among other things, wide-open and completely present to whatever is going on in the immediate moment…

May contrasts this natural, contemplative state to our society’s tendency to encourage focus on a single task. This may be necessary for learning in the ways our schools are conducted, but we should know that we are training our children out of their natural contemplative presence, teaching them to devalue it, even perhaps to fear it…To put it simply, in concentrating on one thing at a time, we miss everything else. Going shopping, we miss the sky. Doing work, we miss the singing of birds. In conversation with one person, we ignore the presence of others. Through it all, we fail to appreciate our own precious being--the soft flow of breath, the beating of heart, the subtle beauty and wisdom of body, the sheer pristine wonder of being aware… May believes that we overemphasize concentration and do not encourage contemplation enough. My hunch is that life needs 95 percent openness and 5 percent concentration, and we have the proportions reversed. So here’s my food for thought: **How do we encourage our society to foster a more contemplative approach to living? **May says that by being divorced from the nature within and around us, we make wildness an adversary that we must tame rather than join, master rather than learn from. ..That’s what brings us to manage natural resources, engineer social change, strategize our child-rearing and human relationships, control our emotions, and cope with our stresses. What are your thoughts on this?

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