The Wilderness of the Mind

This morning, I’m contemplating the wilderness of the mind.
Wilderness can seem chaotic and dangerous.  In reality, it’s highly organized, it’s just highly organized in a way that doesn’t necessarily favor us.  So we look for affordances to deal with wilderness to our own advantage.
In the external world, we deal with wilderness in a few different ways:
-We push it out by creating walls and barriers, roofs and fences and doors.
-We tame it by paving over landscapes, indoctrinating our tribe with standards and mores, and cultivating separateness (again, fences to keep the wolves away from the cattle, security guards to keep the riff-raff out of the country club, borders to keep out the other tribes).
-We avoid it and stay only in those places that have already been tamed.
Wilderness always encroaches.  Barriers break, roofs leak, standards and mores disintegrate and shift, opposing tribes war, and on and on and on.
As without, so within.  I think we all struggle with our own wild places.  We deal with them in some of the same ways.  We push away the chaotic aspects of ourselves, tame them with productivity hacks and rules and commitments, and avoid those places that are left untamed.
Now I’m not arguing that we should all just return to internal wilderness.  Wilderness may not be chaotic, but it can definitely be dangerous.  Walk through the desert just expecting to come upon water, and you may get a hard lesson.   Free love, anarchy, and “do whatever you feel” have natural consequences.
But I am arguing that we should stop avoiding our own wildernesses.  We should explore them, let ourselves feel uncomfortable and even terrified from time to time, and find, when we have crossed the desert of our own psyche, that perhaps much of the terror was unjustified.  Or if justified, at least we will know the shape and form of our fear, and be better prepared to deal with it next time.
There is another side to this story.  Namely, the fear of the constricting influences of the ‘tamed’ world.  I find myself struggling with this at least as often.  Having tasted one type of freedom, I find myself sometimes wanting to destroy all the fences and walls that I don’t feel should apply to me.  I’d like meaningful work that makes an impact on the world, and I also want the freedom to go explore and experience whatever feels good that day.  But I know that to do meaningful work, I need to show up with a consistency that precludes the freedom that I also desire.  Chaos and danger are important to the psyche—without them, we’d never learn to generate the risks that lead to progress.  But so are rules and commitments—without them, we’d never generate the progress itself.
I am encouraged by this passage from Joseph Campbell:
There is no escape from society.  Hence it is, that although the Japanese and Chinese ideograms for the concept “freedom” are exactly the same in form, the Chinese by implication means liberation from the human nexus, but the Japanese, compliance with the same through willing devotion to secular activities: on one hand, freedom away from society, under the great vault of the skies, on the misty mountaintop, picking mushrooms; and on the other hand, freedom within the  undeniable bonds of the given world, the social order in which, and to the ends of which, one has been raised. Remaining within that field, one yet experiences and achieves “freedom” by bringing to it the full consent and force of one’s good will: for, after all, the life that is found on the mountaintop lives within the heart of man when in society too.
May we all find the life of the mountaintop and bring it into the heart of society.

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