An Introduction to Mindful Rewilding


We need rewilding because a close relationship with nature is a vital part of a happy, healthy life. Human rewilding is a vast topic that explores what essential value lies in reclaiming some of the lost connections that were held by our more nature-connected ancestors; connections to other species, to a sense of place, purpose and connection within a tribe, connections with the great elements and with the seasons and cycles of nature among many others.

Human rewilding asks the question, “Could it be that the profound disconnection that has occurred between modern human beings and their natural environment be at the root of some of the mental and emotional challenges we see in our world today?”

Lakota elder, Luther Standing Bear once said,

“The old Lakota was wise, he knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes cold and hard and that a lack of respect for green growing things soon leads to a lack of respect for people too.”

Does a lack of connection with plants, rocks, animals and the elements foster a kind of deadening of one’s ability to empathize with other life forms?  Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” points out that many of the leading environmentalists, conservationists and natural science leaders were inspired to pursue their work because of formative experiences in nature as children.  For kids growing up today, and adults too, if these formative experiences aren’t happening, does this mean the future will be short on nature lovers and champions?  It’s a fair question.  And could it be that much of the violence we see in the world influenced by the violence writ large happening against the earth itself?  The mass eco-cide of the very life support systems of the planet must surely, at some level, be felt deeply by our species and influence our actions towards other creatures and one another.

Rewilding asserts that to begin healing and restoring our place as caretakers of the earth we first must foster a reunion, a coming back together.  And this reunion can look many ways depending on the person, where they live and how they feel most authentically called to relate with that natural world.

To me rewilding doesn’t necessarily denote survival skills, or facing nature alone as an adversary. To me it’s not about conquering nature at all, in fact, that kind of thing is the antithesis of what rewilding is about.

Thich Nhat Hahn defines mindfulness as “awakening to the reality of the present moment.”

Like a Jedi tuning into the force, mindfulness draws us into the now, where mental chatter melts away as our senses awaken to what is happening right now…the sound of wind in the trees, cicadas calling overhead, light patterns on the forest floor and the sensation of wind on our skin…in this moment of mindful awareness we connect with our embodied, sensual, animal selves…we enter into a conversation between our bodies and the living, breathing, ever changing earth.

To bring mindfulness to rewilding is more about softening the heart, slowing the breath and humbly approaching the outdoors with reverence and great respect.  It means aligning with the forces of nature and becoming open to be deeply impacted by what miracles nature if offering up in any given moment.  Pausing to appreciate the beauty of a spider web or the engineering of an ant-hill can happen in your apartment or on a sidewalk.  If we can appreciate and even experience a sense of awe in the presence of a spider or frog, how much more likely we can see our fellow human beings as sentient creature’s worthy of respect and kindness.

You don’t have to be in a remote wild place to gain the benefits of rewilding because it starts with awareness, being here, right now, and then paying attention to what is happening. Mindfulness truly is the doorway to the heart of rewilding.  What I find most rewarding about the path of rewilding is the way in which nature and the human creature are designed to work together.  There is nothing so beautiful or pleasing to the mind, body and soul than the great elements of nature in their pure forms.  A good fire, a clean and clear stream, a majestic mountain, clouds against a blue sky, a crisp breeze on a warm afternoon or feeling part of a group of other people who know and care for you.  So much of what our society tells us to seek for satisfaction are material in nature and economically driven, whereas the gifts of a rewilded life are free and sustainable.

There are so many ways to kick-start a rewilded life, so here are just a few to get you started:

  1. Nature Meditation: Spend at least 5 minutes a day just sitting outside and paying attention to movement.  Allow yourself to be still and simply observe the land.  Take it all in.  When you notice your mind is in a thought come back to what you can sense around you. Get to know a place you live nearby simply sitting and watching.
  2. Walking with Awareness: Practice walking with awareness outdoors.  Rather than “hiking”, try pausing and connecting with your breath. Set an intention to walk slowly and receive the presence of the land you are on.  Cultivate a spirit of gratitude or thanksgiving for the many gifts of the land. Notice how this changes your experience of walking outside.
  3. Acknowledging First Nations: Take some time to learn about the indigenous, first nations whose homeland you live on.  Learn about their history and where they are today.  Learn about your own ancestors and their relationship to the land.  If you go back far enough everyone has a connection to hunter-gatherers who lived close to the earth.  To practice rewilding is to bring awareness to our conflicted and often painful relationship to the earth and our history of settler colonialism, which so dramatically impacted and still impacts, the indigenous people of the Americas.
  4. Feeling the Earth: When outdoors try reaching out and touching the trees and stones or the earth.  Consider walking barefoot and allowing your feet to come back in contact with the ground. Allow your senses to open as you reach out and get closer in your body to the different sights, sounds, smells textures and flavors of the earth.

Keep in mind that the process of rewilding is a gradual one.  For many today, the outdoors has become more foreign than the indoors, like domesticated pets, modern humans may feel more comfortable in the house than in the wild.  So, go slow and keep expanding your comfort zone little by little.  The more we can come to know, appreciate and connect with our lands, the more likely we are to care for them.  And we need to care for this earth, future generations are counting on us.

Join the Discussion