What is Wild(ness) and Why Does it Matter?

What is Wild(ness)?

What is wild, and what might it have to do with our authentic human selves?

The traditional definition of wild goes something like this: That which is living or growing in the natural environment. Untamed, not domesticated, uncultivated, free.

The word wild is sometimes used to describe a place or living being with reverence for its purity – its original, authentic, and unspoiled character. But, too often our modern use of the term wild perverts its meaning to something or a behavior that is unpredictable and outside of the norms of our culture, of civilization, or our own personal experience and understanding – for example: barbaric, uncontrolled, crazy, unkempt, unclean, repulsive.

Why does it matter what wild(ness) is? We need wildness as much as a fish needs water. As Thoreau wrote, “It is in vain to dream of wildness distinct from ourselves. There is none such.” And, as John Muir believed, “In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world”. Our DNA is steeped in the wild cauldron where humanity was born, pulled, as Wes Jackson says, through the knothole of time. And, here we are – nearly eight billion precious, living, breathing people and counting.

Devoid of a tangible connection to wild nature, we too easily become disconnected from our internal wildness. The human species is on a crash course with extinction. We are on a superhighway toward our own demise primarily because we’ve forgotten where humanity sprang from; forgotten that we are, as the Yahweh author writes in Genesis, “Fashioned from clay”. We are made from the foundational elements of the earth and stardust. We depend entirely on the wildness of our planet to sustain us. We’ve forgotten who we are, because we have largely become disconnected from our home.

To be on speaking terms with our home and to know the wild tongue is to come home to being fully human. As Jay Griffiths penned,

“What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakable, unforgettable, unshakeable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire, and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents. Don’t waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.”

I believe at our deepest core – at the heart of who we each are – is wildness. To touch it and be one with it requires vulnerability that our culture instructs us to build a fortress around. Related to this predicament, I’ve been considering the research and writings of sociologist and storyteller, Brené Brown. Brown relates her long dance around the sage advice of Maya Angelou – “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all.” Brown links this riddle-like paradox with being a wholehearted human. Having the courage to touch your own deep wildness, and to stand alone as your authentic self everywhere – this is what it means to become the wilderness.


I’ve pursued being intimately connected with wild nature much of my life. This connection is a huge influence on who I am, yet my journey has brought me to a place where I am recognizing the urgency to embrace Maya Angelou’s understanding of freedom. I also have come to understand that to find one’s true voice and speak it, one must be willing to be vulnerable. This blog is a part of my own path to become the wilderness. I plan to explore questions and topics I believe are paramount to our individual and collective futures: What does it mean to be vulnerable, authentic, and a man in our society? Can connecting our inner wildness with wild nature guide us on a path toward courage, freedom, renewal, and wholeheartedness? And, what of the spiritual – God’s wildness –known by the ancient Hebrews as Dabhar; the creative energy that gives life and flows through us? These are a few of the questions in the deep, dark waters I will be diving into on emergewild.com. Check out my next article on Naming the Wild “Other” – what’s in a name, and why we need to cultivate awareness of the names around us, and how we name others.


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