Eyes of the Wild emerged from the years I spent travelling as a researcher for various environmental organisations, through places of great elemental power – the Russian taiga forest, the Siberian coast of the Bering Strait, the Northern Rockies, and the edges of the Arctic pack ice.
These journeys brought me into close contact with wild animals, their indigenous guardians and some remarkable field scientists who lived among them.
These journeys affected me very deeply. I realized that the power of the landscapes and the presence of the animals were calling back aspects of my own being that I had long neglected or forgotten. I experienced an intense inner awakening to the creative powers of life, and began to explore the inner realities of the psyche and soul in a way I had not dared before. I was being drawn back into that deep current that has run through many human cultures for tens of thousands of years – the natural connection between the presence of the animals, the rhythms and cycles of the Earth and the waking of the soul within each one of us.
In Eyes of the Wild I describe two experiences in particular that sparked the awakening into greater connection with the unity of life.
Travelling by walrus-skin boat, along the Arctic coast of the Bering Strait, we often encountered gray whales:
“The gray whales were feeding in small groups on the fertile stretches of seabed near the shore and when they rose to the surface, their breath smelled like the very exhalations of the sea. I had never seen or heard whales of any kind before, and something shifted in me inwardly as I listened to the warm pulsations of their breathing.
I began to sense a power that seemed to inhabit even the least conspicuous places – the roughly carved stones along the seashore or the damp brown bed of mosses by a stream. It was a power for which I had no name or knowledge. Then one afternoon in late September, walking alone on the tundra, I heard the voices of cranes ring through the empty sky. The birds appeared overhead on the long waves of their voices, flock after flock streaming in wavering, arrowhead lines. They were sandhill cranes, gathering to cross the Bering Strait and fly south to their wintering grounds in the American Southwest. Echo makers the Native North Americans call them for the resonant power of their voices, shaking the air.
Bare words for beauty. I knew little about the lives of the cranes that day, but in their hoarse bell and clangour, a sound so much older and wilder than the scattered and disjointed voices running through my mind, something deep inside stirred and woke. It was a part of myself I had put away long before and almost forgotten. I knew it only as absence – a pervasive sense of emptiness, inadequacy and loss. Or a sound like distant weeping, the voice of someone calling from a closed-off room, whose sorrow had lost the power to touch.
Suddenly I was waking again to the burning, enchanted life of the world. I stepped out of my ordinary self into the space of light, and for a time that radiance lingered and shone out through the surface of visible things. They became transparent in the light. Even when I was home again, ringed with the noise and concrete of a busy London street, I stood before the ordinary blaze of a tree in autumn and watched in astonishment the leaping, rooted, dance of its flame.
We often associate the word “mystical” with something vague and uncertain, with cloudy intimations that dissolve in the common light of the everyday. I can only say, in all honesty: that has not been my own experience. The reality of a greater dimension to life rose up, as immediate, immense and unmistakable as the rising of the whale, and the pungent breath of its life from the deep.”
Meeting a gray whale mother and her baby from a small boat in the San Ignacio Lagoon, on the coast of Baja California, where these whales come each year to mate, socialize and give birth to their young:
“When the grey whale mother surfaces next, she comes close enough for me to reach out and touch her. I run my hands along the skin of her side, which feels indescribably smooth, as though the texture has been endlessly refined by the washing of the sea. Her flesh is firm and cool beneath my hands. Through the physical contact with her body, a sense of the expansive dimensions of her being opens inside me like soundings from some vast interior sea. As the depth of the meeting grows, it becomes an opening through which something entirely new keeps pouring – a wordless sense of connection with a greater life.
Turning onto one side, the whale gazes up at me through the water; looking down into her dark eye, ringed with folds of skin, I meet the lucid and tranquil gaze of an ancestor, one of the ancient ones of the Earth. I feel her taking me out, far out, of thought and linear time, beyond the limited concerns of my ordinary mind, into a profound sense of meeting with another being, whose consciousness is not separate from my own.
When she surfaces next with her calf by her side, the whale mother places her nose directly against the side of the panga and becomes completely still. Her blowholes are closed; her immense power is utterly composed and quiet. I reach out and touch her on the head with my right hand, then I put my left hand on her calf and join with them both on the undivided sea.
That evening, back at our camp on the lagoon shore, I try to write down something of the power of what I have experienced with the whale mother and her calf. But all that comes to me are a few terse words: what was, on the day of creation, is, now.
Eden, I think, is not simply a mythical place, or a metaphor for original innocence, or an outworn and divisive religious symbol. Eden is a state of being, and we are free to return every time we know ourselves again in deep communion with the rest of life.”
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