Gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful

Many people have favoured books they return to again and again. Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness, 2006is one of mine. Sometimes it just jumps off the bookcase next to my fireside chair. And each reading offers new love and new light.

This evening I’m resting in some words from Parker J Palmer’s Foreword to the book:

Jerry’s last words were spoken to his daughter, Julie, but they could have been spoken to any and all of us: “Trust in Love, Trust in God.”

With Jerry May’s death, we have suffered a great loss. With this book – forged in his living and refined in the crucible of his dying – we have received a great gift. I think Jerry would say that painful but promising paradoxes such as this are at the heart of the wilderness experience, and of the wisdom traditions that have merged from our encounters with wilderness, both inner and outer. I think Jerry would urge us to go beyond our simple-minded dualism about death and life, to see into – and live into – the wild unity of it all.

Jerry opened his now-classic Will and Spirit with these words: “We all have secrets in our hearts. I will tell you one of mine. All my life I have longed to say yes, to give myself completely, to some Ultimate Someone or Something.”

I believe that Jerry’s longing has been fulfilled. Thanks to this gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful man, our stores of significant thought, authentic prayer, and shake-the-rafters laughter have been replenished, on earth as they now are in heaven.

Parker J Palmer
Foreword to Gerald G May
The Wisdom of Wilderness

We’re living, in many parts of the world in 2016, in bewildering and turbulent times. Few of us, if any, have much faith in politicians assuring us of their ability to “make us the greatest …” Many more of us are turned off by such language. How, for heaven’s sake, could we measure what being “the greatest” would look like anyway? By whose definition?

In the midst of the world’s clamour Gerald May’s words resonate still: “Trust in Love. Trust in God.” Simple “last words” that led into new beginnings – for Jerry, for Parker Palmer, and for innumerable readers of his wilderness experiences. What would I give, what would any of us give, to be able to imagine that maybe, some day, some blessed friend or loved one might truly be able to speak of us as gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful – ?

Leaderless teacher

Not for the first time Dr Bill Wooten set me on the trail of another good book today – and I’ve tracked down Ecopsychology a collection of essays that includes one on The Way of Wilderness by Steven Harper. I’m looking forward to its arrival here in a day or two – having a sense that I’ll be as taken with the collection as I was when I read the late, great Dr Gerald G May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness seven or eight years ago.

It’s Lent, of course, and every year, and for that reason, I have an eye out for some new insight on wilderness and what it might have meant for the Hebrews, and later for Jesus of Nazareth, and might mean for any of us, wherever in the world we are, in our own personal growing, in fractious, stirred and evolving times, physically and metaphorically – refugee camps and modern-day exiles in mind on the one hand, and the miracle of the International Space Station on the other!

Harper is writing about opt-in experience of course – a privilege not presently granted to refugees, who are where they are because they had little or no other choice. Dare we hope that the “leaderless teacher” (again, physical or metaphorical, outer or inner work) may instil something of “faith, hope and love” in any and all who encounter her? I need to hope and so dare I must …

When we are truly willing to step into the looking
glass of nature and contact wilderness, we uncover
a wisdom much larger than our small everyday selves.
Uninterrupted and undisturbed nature takes care of
itself. One of my favorite guidelines for facilitators
comes from Esalen Institute’s cofounder Richard Price,
who used to make the same distinction I am making here
between therapy and practice with respect to Gestalt.
Price liked to say, “Trust process, support process,
and get out of the way.” He frequently added, “If in
doubt, do less.” Personal evolution then becomes like
nature; instead of being a struggle, our process,
uninterrupted and undisturbed, becomes unfolding
growth. Wilderness is a leaderless teacher; there is
no one preaching change to us. The only personal
transformations that occur arise from within ourselves.

Steven Harper
Ecopsychology

And that’s how the Hebrews, and the man from Nazareth, and many others before and since, came upon such a deal of Wisdom to be shared – on the other side of wilderness encounter.

Sunrise stands still

“The tree is now lush in the summer morning mist, exuberant in the warmth of afternoons. Through summer, the sunrises and sunsets move back toward the south each day, gradually picking up speed, “falling” south through the autumnal equinox. The tree’s oval leaves turn crimson, a few at a time at first, then all rushing to keep up. Raucous vectors of geese fly, and the leaves fall. Chill comes. The tree’s deep scarred bark seems to become darker as the sunrises and sunsets slow in their southward movement. The sun’s arc is lower, the days shorter, nights longer. Then the place of sunrise stands still again at winter solstice and the tree is once more a black skeleton, dead if you didn’t know better. Then, ever so slowly, the place of sunrise begins to move northward again.”

Gerald G May
The Wisdom of the Wilderness, p80f

The wonderful Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has written:

“the person who does not know how to die does not know how to live” …

Thich Nhat Hanh
You are here

… and I wonder whether Gerald May ever read that? I think he’ll have known the truth in it. Deeply sensitive to the seasons of life, he observes summer and winter, dying and rising, an eternal cycle, “southward movement”, a brief standing still, and a “rising northward again”. Dr May, like all of us, had cause to lean hard upon his sense of life’s natural beginnings and endings, oft repeated. I need to remember “summer morning mist” too. I have to know how to die, the better to know how to live.