Wild flow

‘Man is not himself only. He is all that he sees; all that flows to him from a thousand sources.’

Mary Austin

Our culture deeply fears the earth, for we know what happens when we take ourselves away from this so-called civilisation and return to the primitive, the primal – we change.

Our masters do not like us to change, for we become difficult, unruly, and unlicensed.

‘Those who go into wilderness, into Nature that has not been tamed, are no longer under (arbitrary) human law, but under the all-encompassing, inevitable law of Nature. They go out from under human law. They are no longer citizens, they are not orderly, they are not civilised – they are outlaws. When you go into wilderness, something happens, something that civilisation does not like. (That’s why they cut it down, you know).’

Stephen Harrod Buhner

It is early on a cold autumnal morning, and I am squatting down amongst the plants at the estuary. It is too early for most people to be out. So I sit alone, watching my breath mist out from my nostrils.

I am aware of the landscape around me, shift down a gear, and the stream of my thinking goes quiet. A slow trickle of machinations continues, but I prefer to keep the focus on my body. Sense how it responds to the subtle fluctuations and signals around me.

Canada geese arrive. Bird calls sound the alert when I start to move, then die down again. Finally, I am seen no longer as a threat. And so I sit, absorbing the landscape and wait.

At some point, I feel the urge to get up and move. My body is relaxed, and my senses are heightened. 

I walk slowly. Stay present with my body. Observe what is around me and feel the space and place I am now encountering.

It is at moments like this that I am happiest. The modern world, with its deadlines, schedules, hyperactivity, and linear way of living no longer exists. 

Instead, a timelessness embraces me. I am no longer a passive observer looking at the land, but instead am immersed in it, feeling and sensing my inter-relationship with it.

As I saunter through the estuary, I gather wild and feral food. Plants that have adapted to their environment over millennia. Plants that feed my bones with their nutrient-dense goodness. No vegetable, homegrown or bought, can match this.

Within a short while, I have gathered enough food to last my family for three days. The kitchen will, once again, be overflowing with Nature’s bounty.

Some call wild food, free food. I do not see it as such. 

There is no such thing as free in Nature. Everything has a price, not necessarily a monetary cost, but definitely a price. For example, I pay the price of energy expended to harvest plants, the price of sacrificing hundreds of hours to learn which plants are edible. Ultimately I pay the price of shedding my old, former self.

From 1999 to 2004, I was a gung-ho, adrenaline-fired, go-getting internet marketing consultant. I was brought in to destroy and lay waste to the marketplace, to make my paymaster top dog, and annihilate the competition. And I was very good at doing it. 

I was riding the wave of the Internet bubble, and getting paid handsomely for it. But the price was enormous. I paid with my soul, my happiness and my freedom.

In 2004 a new service came online that everyone was talking about – Facebook. So, being such a cutting-edge kind of guy (or so I thought), I went to complete my Profile and froze. It wanted me to list my Interests. I could not think of one single interest outside of business. 

For five years, I worked the Net seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day. I had taken a single three-week holiday in all that time. I knew nothing else.

A profound realisation came over me – who the hell was I? Something had to change.

It took a while to untangle myself from my business, to wind everything up and walk away. But I did it, and the resulting journey I have been on has taught me more about myself and how the world works (outside human constructs) than anything conventional wisdom dictates. 

This was an education from my heart, not studied in academia, business or the schoolroom. It was a lesson unveiled. By immersing myself in Nature, I started slowly to re-emerge, to rediscover who I was (and am).

Many thought I was mad to walk away from my business, but something inside me was calling; a deep quiet voice from the past, from times when I was young and carefree. 

I pined for the old freedom I remembered in my bones – the world of my childhood – bounding through the woods and streams, getting muddy and worn out, eventually falling on the earth, lying still, listening, looking and breathing the scent of the soil.

Nowadays, I am a forager introducing people to the edible weeds around them and under their feet.

You see, plants are only one gateway. If you were so inclined, you could take any aspect of Nature and discover an ancient, wild world for yourself. So don’t be afraid to go and meet the Wild Redeemer. 

Through engaging and wanting to meet as many plants as possible, dreams and memories long lost have come flooding into my consciousness – wonderfully joyful memories of being in The Great Outdoors.

As a boy of 12, I owned a natural history book that taught me how to watch Nature – everything from tracking badgers to gathering the hedgerow harvest. But sadly, I could not remember the author or its title. 

One day a vivid image suddenly came to mind. It was a line drawing showing the importance of wind direction when stalking deer. This image seemed to haunt me. I kept seeing it over and over for about a week. 

This was when I realised I was changing. I had started to spend much of my time outdoors, away from the computer and thought the image was simply an association, reminding me of how I had been when a boy.

But then that damn charity shop turned up.

I was walking down to my town, and on the outskirts, I passed a charity shop I had not been to before. Without thinking, I stopped dead in my tracks and stepped back towards the door. I was telling myself to go and take a look at the clothes section, and so I went in.

For some reason, I found myself in front of the books and, without thinking, pulled out and opened the first book that I laid my fingers on. There was the exact line drawing that had been nagging me previously. A chill ran through my body. This was definitely the same book, a different edition, but the same. And so began my journey into Wild Flow.

‘It is not the brain that thinks, but rather the heart.’

Hildegard von Bingen

Nothing in life is static. Nothing in Nature is separate. It is easy to think of a single plant as isolated and on its own. In truth, a plant is part of everything else. A plant has a relationship with the other plants around it and in community with it.

Everything is related to everything else, and there is a constant flow between all species. By delving deeper into this inter-relationship, we knock on the door of mystery, opening ourselves up to deeper, more subtle aspects of life.

I am beginning to trust that specific processes work, without even being able, necessarily to understand them. By reconnecting back to the landscape through my body and feelings, I get a sense and appreciation of Wild Flow. 

Our culture teaches us to work with our heads. We learn to interpret experiences using our reason. This is back to front. The key to opening the door to Wild Flow is through the heart.

The heart is an organ of sensory perception and is often overlooked in the dominant culture. Instead, we are forced into logical, rational activities, cutting ourselves off from our sensual, signal-receiving bodies.

When this happens, the inherent trust in Life, and ourselves, is usurped.

No longer are we encouraged to trust our senses, but we are taught to look outside of ourselves to another authority. And so the world of experts, specialists, bureaucrats, politicians and priests descends upon us.

In cahoots with the government, the cultural script dictated by organised religion enforces the belief that our bodies are evil, what we feel is corrupt, and that we cannot trust ourselves. The uncivilised feel, the civilised do not.

Yet it is through the very process of cultivating sensory awareness that Wild Flow starts happening. The simple act of slowing down, and focusing on the body, is all that is needed to welcome it in.

There are no magical incantations, no shamanic journeying involved. Instead, it is about letting go. 

By releasing the need to micro-manage every aspect of life, we learn to become Zensurfers following the wave of life wherever it takes us. We gently navigate the currents and experience the things we want out of life, never clinging to anything and never being totally in control. For how can we control that which is wild?

Wild Flow teaches that abundance, in its vast diversity, exists all around us and is a natural state. Only frightened people live by grasping, grabbing and hoarding. Marshall Sahlin, in his essay The Original Affluent Society, from his book ‘Stone Age Economics’ writes:

‘Free from market obsessions of scarcity, hunters’ economic propensities may be more consistently predicated on abundance than our own.’

So what is this abundance Sahlin writes about? First, contemporary society has much more material wealth than hunter-gatherers, who barely had any material objects to speak of.

They would carry only what was essential to survive – a means to make fire, carry water, catch animals, build shelter and so on. Give a nomad a precious gift, and they will treasure it dearly for about 24 hours, after which they may look for a discreet place to leave it. Everything has to be carried, so anything extra to daily life is discarded.

Nomadic cultures are believed to be primitive in a negative sense. Yet they intimately know the landscape they walk through and trust that it will provide for them. When they catch or gather a large amount of food, they call other communities together and share the bounty, in celebration, instead of making it last a few days. These are not the actions of frightened people who believe in scarcity. Instead, it is a trust that the land will always provide.

Is this not a similar way of viewing the world that is espoused in the Bible

‘Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.’

Matthew 6.25-6.26.

I’m not Christian, but the attitude that all will be provided can be found in many religions. These are rare snippets of wisdom against a plethora of rules and laws.

Wild Flow is akin to the Buddhist begging bowl. A monk will go out into the world with nothing and humbly accept alms. His bowl is a symbol of non-attachment to material possessions.

The monk merely receives from the world. He places no price, value or judgement on the things the world chooses to drop into his bowl.

Yet this simple practice teaches the monk to trust life. Accept that all is well and that his needs are always met. This can be very hard to understand for those of us brought up in the West. In our world, we always want more.

So where does the heart come into all this?

Ask indigenous people where they exist in their bodies, and most point to their heart region. Ask the same question to any European, and more than likely, the majority will point to their head.

This simple shift of awareness in the body as to where we experience the world elicits a fundamentally different way of living.

‘Many ancient cultures, including the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Greeks, maintained that the primary organ capable of influencing and directing our emotions, our morality and our decision-making ability was the heart; and they attached enormous emotional and moral significance to its behaviour.’

The Heartmath Solution by Doc Childre

Traditionally the heart has been seen as an organ for pumping blood, but this reductionist viewpoint has recently been challenged, even by science itself.

In their book, Neurocardiology, Armour and Ardell claim that there are at least forty thousand neurons (nerve cells) in the heart. Specific crucial sub-cortical centres of the brain contain the same number of neurons as the heart. So the heart is now considered an organ of perception.

Furthermore, studies have shown that it constantly feeds signals into the brain and processes information from its internal environment and the outside world.

So how did our heart-brain mode of cognition get forgotten?

Throughout Europe, from the fifteenth and up until the end of the nineteenth century, country dwellers were slowly moved off the land. Then, the rich and powerful started to enclose the Commons, turning it into private property. This move had the effect of cutting our sensory bodies off to Nature. 

Take people away from being close to the land, then force them into cities to work in factories and workhouses, and you create conditions where every signal the body receives is lost or ignored. But Nature is fighting back – demanding to be heard again.

‘I am afraid of cities. But you mustn’t leave them. If you go too far you come up against the vegetation belt. Vegetation has crawled for miles towards the cities. It is waiting. Once the city is dead, the vegetation will cover it, will climb over the stones, grip them, search them, make them burst with its long black pincers; it will blind the holes and let its green paws hang over everything.’

Jean-Paul Sartre

I am on a track, ambling. My body relaxes as I slip into sensing the landscape. It is a simple process and one that is the cornerstone for experiencing Wild Flow.

To sense the land yourself:

  1. Stop for a moment and stand up.
  2. Gently bring your awareness to your heart region.
  3. Start feeling it, sensing it, and allowing your breath to slow down.
  4. As you do so, relax the focus of your eyes and hold your hands out in front of you.
  5. Slowly move them horizontally out to the side.
  6. Keep watching your fingertips as far back as possible while looking straight ahead. If you have done this correctly, you will likely be looking 180 degrees around you.

Usually, our focus is very narrow. This process expands it outwards.

Maintain your awareness and start sensing, with your body, what is happening behind you. Slow down and breathe. Now begin walking, observe your breath and what you feel, listen to all the sounds, smell the wind, and feel it on your skin.

Your monkey mind may become calm or resist by screeching and turning up the volume. It depends on how much you give into the process of letting go.

It takes a fair amount of focus to do this practice effectively. Still, over time, due to the openness of observing the world, you may notice subtleties often missed when you look from a narrow focused head-centric perspective.

Life starts shining. Events may cross your trail. Subtle opportunities appear that lead you into hitherto unknown experiences if paid attention to and followed.

On occasions, these flow-states can defy logic. Foraging has taught me to trust the abundance of the land and life. It’s a metaphor for living, and this is what plants have to teach us. 

Through conscious attention, we can experience, maybe only momentarily, the joy, beauty and bounty that is right here, right now, all around us at all times.

Comment

  1. Thank you so very much for sharing as a kindred spirit. We are all of the earth but sadly so few recognize or accept this. Enjoy peace and love with your family. Looking forward to the next newsletter! Get some juniper berry starter going and make some bread!

  2. Lovely essay, thank you!
    Your beautiful and insightful account of walking through, and connecting with nature reminds me very much of the QiGong practice of ‘Circle Walking’ – or any QiGong practice really – awakening the human heart to the memory that we are (according to daoist philosophy) a kind of interface between heaven and earth.

  3. After 22 years of running my business i am leaving next week to study Foraging and Herbalism in depth. Thank you so much Robin for this timely piece of wonderful literature. You have helped me so much on myjourney back to nature thus far. We all need to freexthe chains of slavery to this matrix and embrace a simple natural life. Love to all

  4. I thank you profoundly for sharing this. All children should be brought up to experience the abundance of the earth like this. And thereafter to never let it go.

  5. Blown away by your essay, you are incredibly talented, thank you for sharing, it’s brilliant when science backs up what indigenous/people close to the land knew all along.
    Breaking the cycle of conventional western life seems very difficult. Thank you for your generosity in sharing how you connect, the 180 degrees exercise sounds awesome!

  6. Thankyou Robin, may your time of rest, natural winter hibernation and reconnection as a family bless you all as much as your work blesses me. Wishing you renewed blessings for 2023, in love and light Caro

  7. cor you dont half go on!

    I kind of like that the book in the charity shop is gone for ever.

    Its the same for many many of us – especially born in the 60s & 70s, to have been half feral in nature as a child.. then to enter a city for decades only to be released back into the wild again!

    I love every sentence tho

    Happy solstice you old hippypunk!

  8. Yet again, a huge thank you. Reading your words I’m taken back to my childhood where I was allowed to run free in nature. And, again, to a time in London where my flat, sandwiched between the South Circular and the railway tracks, looked out on wasteland. I listened to my heart and transformed it into a lawn. Immediately, surrounding neighbours – it was a crescent – began planting up anything they had, old toilets left outside, buckets. A community was created just through the power of nature.
    I’ve just retired and looking forward to connecting even deeper with the outside and the land.
    Thank you for your inspirational writing.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this ?? A truly wonderful tonic.
    My 6 year old daughter and 10 year old son were asked to take things into school today for ideas for next terms theme entitled “on our doorstep in Pembrokeshire”. They have gone in their comfy outdoor clothes armed with binoculars, nature books, foraging bags and your book ?
    Merry Christmas to you and your family xx

  10. that’s been happening a lot lately – going somewhere not really knowing why and then realising oh here is the reason
    can’t wait to try the 180 degree exercise tomorrow
    thank you – much to mull over here

  11. Thank you, that was a lovely little calming read in a mad world, I believe when the student is ready the teacher will appear, and you did xxx much love and a peaceful Christmas with your family, most people have lost touch with mother Earth but we need her now more than ever love Kim x

  12. A lovely read Robin. Well and honestly written. In many respects it reminds me of my youth in rural Worcestershire, and my attempt to revisit a connectivity with nature. Thank you.
    Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2023

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this, Robin. I found this so interesting and it really resonates for me. I hope that you enjoy you rest and look forward very much to your Spring newsletter.

  14. As I sit here at my window gazing out at my wild acreage, I am thankful that I was no longer able to afford to live in the city. Thankful to be here, forced, at the time to relocate to a place where I could live rather than reside on a postage-stamp size lot in a city. It wasn’t long before I realized the gift of leaving behind schedules, stress, time constraints, foolish attempts to keep up with trends; before I became one with my surroundings, a steward of the land, and peace returned to my soul. Your essay encapsulates what I have discovered. Thank you

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