A Way To Be Wild

“‘I think of my territory as that which I have walked in person and know the weather at a given time of year, know a lot of the critters, and know a lot of the people,” the Zen poet Gary Snyder told reporter Dana Goodyear in a recent issue of The New Yorker.   His territory is the whole Pacific Rim.  As “Japhy Ryder” in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, he introduced the Kerouac to Zen Buddhism, which he had studied rigorously in Japan, and mountaineering.  In the book, the pair climb to the peak of Yosemite’s Matterhorn.   “He’s the wildest craziest sharpest cat we’ve ever met,” says “Alvah Goldberg,” the Allen Ginsberg character,  “a great new hero of American culture.”  Besides his deep knowledge of Zen and Asian culture, Snyder knew Indian lore and knew how to do down-to-earth things and knew the land.  Published fifty years ago 1958, “The Dharma Bums,” inspired a “Rucksack Revolution.”

In 1959, a year after Kerouac/Ginsberg proclaimed him a new kind of hero, Snyder published Riprap, a book of poems he said were composed to the rhythms of the physical work of laying down stones on a Sierra  trail crew–he writes of setting down words, solid and specific, “before the body of the mind.”

The great paradox is that by inhabiting our specific worlds more fully we can come to feel like we belong in the universe.  As we get engaged with the world around us, we shake off the sense of lonely isolation, the sense of being the skeletons in our own closets.

At least I feel happiest and most myself when I work hard.  Then I stop being just a story, a ghost wafting over my life.  Then I stop being a destination (always disappointing, a kind of ghost town) and become a vehicle for exploring the world, an experiencer, a human being.   Then (at moments) life can be wild.

Lately, it’s occurred to me that my search has changed over the years.  I want to take root in my life rather than yearning for peak experiences.  I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve begun to see the value of a life less (extra)ordinary, a life lived at close range, no saving my efforts for special occassions.

How has your search changed over the years?  Put another way, how to you do justice to your precious, fleeting life?

4 thoughts on “A Way To Be Wild

  1. Hard work can lead us to be aware of the moment. Sometimes only that the work is unpleasant – other times we look back at the what was done and remember doing it. Giving our arms and legs something to do can free us to think, and to be concious of the NOW. It is the NOW that I am interested in learning about. It is the NOW, I think, that leads to prescence and is a part of something much deeper.
    Sometimes the value of the work is not in the result, but the doing. Things may happen within the NOW, but the goal is to be in the NOW, not complete tasks. This focus on process over product, I think, also leads to something much deeper, and is a question I would like to investigate further.

  2. I’ve been thinking about the special value of doing things that are unpleasant this weekend–as I walked into a nursing home to visit someone with advancing Alzheimer’s Disease and as I walked into memorial service for a much-too-young person who died. Dread, I realized, can draw the attention to the Now, to placing one foot in front of the other, opening the heart to what is. Sometimes surprising depths, even little joys you couldn’t have anticipated, open up.

  3. I love this post, and I love Gary Snyder. Ive been thinking about this idea a lot recently, from my newishly acquired desk job. The image of a ghost hovering over ones own life particularily nails the reality of an internet-computer-desk-focused working life.

    Im looking for angles on that rooting into place, work, words, solidity. I find that when I am singing, performing, or doing manual labor. Im not really a surfer, but understand how it can become spiritual for people; a constant engagement with the lifeforce, waves, power you are dancing with.

  4. I’ve been working at being a better reporter, instead of thinking of myself as a writer. I’m really taken with the idea of bearing witness to life with the “body of the mind.” It seems like it could be (for maybe whole seconds at a time)possible to engaged with life the way surfers are, to dance with life.

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