I am leaving today for a month-long solo silent meditation retreat in a cabin in the redwood forest. Part of my reason for going there is to have the quiet and the time to connect deeply with the “beautiful and strange otherness” all around me. To help me restore what has been lost.

Below is an excerpt from Francis Weller’s book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, a must read for every human. Below that are a few of the faces of the beautiful and strange others that I have encountered.

“We no longer live with a sensuous intimacy with the wind, rivers, rainfall, and birdsong. For many of us, the voices of the wild world have faded, receded in mind and imagination. The philosopher Thomas Berry said that we have become autistic to the world, and have ceased to register the songs and moods of the singing planet. Human biologist, Paul Shepherd said, ‘The grief and sense of loss, that we often interpret as a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness, where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered.’

The weight carried by this statement astonishes me. We were meant to have a lifelong engagement with ‘a beautiful and strange otherness.’ It was meant to be an ongoing presence, not something that we capture on our cameras while on vacation in Yellowstone or something we watch on the Nature Channel.  Sheppard spoke adamantly and repeatedly about how other creatures shaped us and made us human, how the lessons of coyote and rabbit, mouse and hawk taught us core values, and how to live in a sustainable way. Animals were the first things that we depicted in recesses and cave paintings, the first we conjured in myth and tales. Their ways were integral, not only for our survival, but also to the very shaping of our souls . . .

Our entire psychic, physical, emotional, and spiritual makeup was shaped in the long evolutionary sweep of our species. Our inheritance includes an intimate and permeable exchange with the wild world. It is what our minds and bodies expect. Ecopsychologist Chellis Glendinning calls this original unfoldment in the natural world, the primal matrix. We were embedded in this matrix of life and knew the world and ourselves only through this perception. It was unmediated intimacy with the living world, with no trace of separation between the human and the more-than-human world . . .

What was once a seamless embrace has now become a breach, a tear in our sense of belonging. Glendenning calls this our original trauma. This trauma carries with it all the recognizable symptoms associated with psychic injury: chronic anxiety, dissociation, distress, hypervigilance, disconnection, and many others.  We are left with a profound loneliness and isolation that we rarely acknowledge . . .”

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