We live in a house in which the front faces an active residential area and in which the back faces some three hundred acres of woodland. Most of that is conserved, but a thin strip just behind us could theoretically be developed. Our lives here seem held in some large metaphor, straddling the densely settled and the almost wild; always there is the constant, if muted, threat that much we cherish will be destroyed.
It seems to me we are each such a meeting place between civilization and nature, and that we carry our culture’s fear of wild places with us. Often the sheer wildness of the inner world seems terrifying while, at other times, it beckons us into mystery and refuge. How often we hide the wilderness within from others, instead offering them our civilized side in a bid for inclusion as we negotiate some sense of belonging. We do so even as we know that just beyond that acculturated face lies an immensity that seems wild and unknowable.
Trauma, especially childhood and cultural trauma, creates a third region in which harmed and fractured aspects of self reside. If approaching the wildness within is anxiety provoking, nearing the realms of the harmed can be terrifying. It is as though we perceive these disowned parts of self as having ceased to be human, as having assumed an identity as ghosts or demons, terrors waiting to consume us if we approach to close.
We must pass through that realm of the dispossessed if we are to access the freedom, creative, and renewal promised by the inner wild lands, yet such a passage is fraught with peril. So what are we to do? Many traditions tell us we must make friends with our several selves in all their fury and grief, yet this task is clearly challenging. There is always the risk we will be overcome by the very emotions and memories we have banished, or that we may not be able to bear the truth and will dissolve into psychosis. No wonder we spend years approaching the middle realm, then retreating. Slowly, if we are lucky or have accomplished guides, we begin to map the terrain and befriend, or at least tolerate, its inhabitants. As we do so, we open the door to healing, although because the middle place may have many inhabitants, the outcome of our endeavors is not entirely in our own hands.
It seems to me we are best off-putting aside, to the extent we are able, our expectations and demands of those who dwell there, meeting them as they are, and discovering whether there might be common ground. This is approach stands in strong contrast to the way of those who seek only personal gain and whose promises mean nothing. One path opens the possibility of growth and change, while the generates misery from opportunity.