Of all the arts made manifest by mankind, wandering is without question the most ancient. And make no mistake, wandering is a form of art, even if it is one which has been lost or obscured through the ages, by the strange phenomena we call civilization and progress. If we will but look far enough back into the past, deep into our history, there emerges one truth which is concrete and indisputable. We began our collective journey as wandering nomads. All of us. We once were each and every one walkers of the earth; pilgrims through and through. Such was for every man his vital and primary trade. And not only a primary trade, but a primal one; one which, to this day, runs in the blood of every infant born of flesh and blood on planet earth.
This is true today as much as it ever has been. We are born to wander; to explore the hills in the distance, the mountains on the horizon, and the valleys in between. This is our destiny once manifest, and later, discarded. As civilization has spread to what were once the darkest, most remote corners of the planet, we have increasingly been led further and further away from that mode of living which we are programmed by evolution, by our very nature, to follow. We have steadily over the course of a few thousand years replaced a life of movement, aliveness, and mystery, with one of materialism, domestication and toil. Of less of the new and fresh and green, with more of the same and stagnant and gray. As wildness has been replaced with technics, and the real with the superficial, vitality has been supplanted by degradation, and fullness, by hollowness. This, I say, is the greatest tragedy of history, and our most profound loss.
It is far from coincidence that many of the greatest spiritual traditions throughout the ages have shared in common a deep reverence for the nomadic life. Many indigenous cultures considered it a right of passage, such as the Walkabout practiced by the Aborigines of Australia, and others. The Hindus had their mystic wanderers. The Gnostics had their wandering bishops. And the Abrahamic lineages, their pilgrims. Jesus himself may rightly be considered a nomad, at least in part. Buddhism, perhaps, has one of the greatest nomadic traditions of all. Siddhārtha Gautama spent seven years as a wandering ascetic before finally reaching enlightenment and becoming the Buddha. Innumerable monks followed in his footsteps for centuries after, seeking the very same truths that he realized. The spread of Buddhism from India into China, Japan, and elsewhere certainly owes a lot to the earliest of these nomads. Without Bodhidharma, for instance, Buddhism may well have never made it to Japan, and even if it had, it would not likely have blossomed into the incredibly rich and valuable tradition that it did. Today, we know this tradition by its uniquely Japanese name, which represents an art form in its own right, and is in large part a primary inspiration for this blog. This art is known, simply, plainly, and beautifully, as Zen.
Few would argue that many the great religious and spiritual traditions are alive today. They certainly are, and this I do not dispute. But I would take great pause before exclaiming that they are both alive and well. Many of the essentials – those points which nearly all of the religions and philosophies, despite their incalculable differences in other areas, almost universally agree – have been obscured and devalued, in favor of values which emphasize and justify the materialism that has become synonymous with modern civilization. There have no doubt been voices on the wind through all of this time, crying out for a recalculation of our orientation, and a re-plotting of our collective course, but those voices seemed to have grown fainter and fainter as the machine of industrialization and modernization has grown to frightening prominence. Henry David Thoreau, perhaps the most ingenious and outspoken advocate for the wandering, minimalist life in more modern times, was far from famous by the time of his death in 1862. This is but one of many examples, as reverence for the old ways have given way to progress, and as industrialization has spread from country to country, continent to continent.
For a brief period in time, it seemed as though materialist values would win out altogether. By the mid 20th century, our ambitions had grown to such heights that the earth was no longer viewed by many as sufficient territory for exploration, and our gazes shifted towards the limitless confines of outer space, first to the moon, then to neighboring planets, and finally to the stars, and beyond. It appeared, for a time, that there were no limits to progress, and that civilization would continue indefinitely its expansion towards material abundance, perfection, and eventually, mastery of space-time and the universe itself.
Oh, but alas, some things just aren’t meant to be. And praise God. Whichever God. Jehovah. Yawheh. Zeus. Brahma. Oden. Allah. Guru Swami Whomsoever What’shisname. Praise the universe and all of creation, that human civilization and the conquest of all that is good and green and natural and pure, was not meant to be.
As it turns out, there are limits to what we call progress. And, there are repercussions. The limits we are now starting to bump into, and the repercussions are becoming more and more evident, to the extent that they can no longer be ignored. In the pursuit of that which we know not, we have set about conquering the earth; dominating and subjugating all that stood in our way. With that conquest has come destruction and degradation in myriad forms. Pollution, crowding and overpopulation, disease, war, the disappearance of the biosphere, acidification of the oceans, erosion of the fertile soils, logging and burning of the forests, mining of the mountains, warming of the climate, holes in the ozone layer, nuclear disasters, the threat of nuclear obliteration, enslaving ourselves and other animals, pushing many species into extinction, and untold others to near the brink of it.
And for what? What have we gained from all of this that was even worth having in the first place, even without the consequences? Nothing. I mean that with every ounce of my being. We have gained precisely nothing. This point will invariably generate disagreement from many, but I stand by it. And that’s what this blog is about. I intend to present a case in defense of nature and wildness, both philosophical and practical, and to pursue a life which is in accord with those values and beliefs. This blog will indeed be devoted to the recovery of the lost art of wandering and the ways of nomadic, as well as to various philosophies rooted in the Eastern traditions of Zen Buddhism and Non-duality, but more than that, it will also be devoted to throwing off the chains of the cultured and the domestic, and to reclaiming that heritage that each and every one of us hold in common. The heritage of a free and limitless being, living in a manner which aligns as closely as possible to that which was meant to be, by biology, by evolution, and by design. I aim to live freely and in truth, to whatever extent can be achieved under the constraints of modernity, and to dispense with all that holds me back.
This will not be a solitary journey. There will be solitude, and lots of it. But I am not alone. Every day, more and more people are joining the ranks of a collective body of folks who are recognizing the challenges that we face as a civilization, and that a new path must be forged. Henry David Thoreau published Walden only 163 years ago, and while it received little acclaim during his own lifetime, today it is revered by many as one of the brightest lights of American literature, one of the most forward-thinking defenses of wild nature, and by some, one of the true monuments in life philosophy. People are waking up. It’s been a slow process, but it is gathering momentum by the day, and will continue to do as the reality of our missteps and miscalculations become impossible to ignore.
“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre” — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a sainte-terrer”, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all, but the Saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which indeed is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels.” – HDT