This book is a collection of essays in honor of psychologist, C.A. Meier, and it includes Meier’s 1983 address to the Third World Wilderness Congress in Inverness, Scotland, entitled, “Wilderness and the Search for the Soul of Modern Man.” It is a nice, diverse overview of different perspectives on inner wilderness of Jungian depth psychology and its relation to outer wilderness of nature. It includes an essay on a Taoist parable of how imposing order on chaos and nature can lead to its death (“The Arts of Mr. Hun Tun,” by Mokusen Miyuki); two wonderful essays by South African soldier and writer Laurens van der Post (“Wilderness: A Way of Truth,” and “Appointment with a Rhinoceros”); various essays examining personal nature narratives and explorations of indigenous peoples’ relationships with nature; and an interesting ending of a poetic mélange called, “Nature Aphoristic (with an excerpt from Goethe), by artist and publisher, Sam Francis.
The foreword of the book is by Robert Hinton, also a psychotherapist as well as the editor and publisher of Daimon Press in Zurich, which is the publisher of the book. Hinton sets the tone for the book, reminding us of “the potential meaning – of crisis, both within and without: it can be tragic; and at the same time, it provides us with the possibility of renewal,” (xii). He invites us, if we are “willing and able to be open to it…it is often just the un-known, the un-planned, the un-expected, the un-familiar which can best teach us,” (xii).
Meier’s essay is based on the correspondence of the inner unconscious and the outer natural world and that disturbance of one, or over-emphasis of one, causes disturbances of the other. “Man is estranged from his soul, therefore from his own inner nature, by being lost in the outer world. Excessive interference with outer nature creates of necessity disorder of the inner nature, for the two are intimately connected,” (2). He draws on the writings of the Neo-Platonists, citing Poseidonius’ statement on “sympatheia ton holon [sympathy of all things],” and Porpyrius’ comment that “the soul, when it encounters the visible, recognizes itself there as it carries everything within itself and the all of things is nothing else than soul,” (3-4). He, is critical of an over-valuation of the scientific perspective on life, stating that we “try to learn more and more about those objects [of nature] and begin to analyze and dissect them, thereby eventually killing them…In other words, as the natural sciences developed, respect for nature as a whole disappeared,” (6). Meier argues that we must attend carefully and thoughtfully to “wilderness without – wilderness within,” and that if we ignore our inner wilderness, we will project these disowned dangers into the outside world and work out our inner conflicts through our relationship with the environment.
Miyuki’s discussion of Chuang Tzu’s Mr. Hun Tun or Chaos critiques the concept of the “machine heart,” and calls for balancing the yang control function of machines with the yin harmony function of the feminine. “If we are not to destroy ourselves as a result of the inhuman operation of the technocratic machine, we must cultivate the feminine functioning of the ego so as to let the Tao, or Self, take its course,” (34).
Laurens van der Post, in his essay, “Wilderness – A Way of Truth,” recalls a conversation he had with Jung in which he said that “the truth needs scientific expression; it needs religious expression and artistic expression,” (45). He thus sets up the need for having different, complementary attitudes and perspectives on nature. Van der Post tells a marvelous tale from the South African Bushmen of “The Great White Bird of Truth.” This story recounts how the community’s best hunter one day caught a glimpse in a rippling pool of a beautiful white bird flying in the sky. “From that moment on, he wasn’t the same. He lost all interest in hunting…One day he said to his people, ‘I am sorry; I am going to find this bird whose reflection I saw. I have got to find it,’ and he said good-bye and vanished,” (53). He traveled throughout all of Africa until he was at the end of his strength, as he watched the beautiful African sunset, he thought, “I shall never see this white bird whose reflection is all I know.” And he prepared himself to lie down and die. Then at that moment, a voice inside him said, ‘Look!’ He looked up and, in the dying light of the African sunset, he saw a white feather floating down from the mountain top. He held out his hand and the feather came into it, and grasping the feather, he died,” (54). He interprets this story as the tale of a person who is spiritually aware, is open to perceiving even a reflection of the truth, and is content with just one feather of the truth. This harkens back to the second part of Jung’s comments on the truth needing scientific, religious and artistic expression, “even then…you only express part of it,” (45). Van der Post stresses the ongoing need of adaptation and re-orientation of each generation to the truth of inner and outer.
Van der Post’s second essay, “Appointment with a Rhinoceros,” is well worth the read. Briefly it is his telling of a transformative encounter with nature in his homeland of South Africa after having been away from home for 10 years, including 3 years in a Japanese concentration camp. He says that his loss of connection with his “natural self” and regaining it in a sudden communing with nature, is an “illustration of one of the many paths we can travel in order to rediscover this lost self,” (124-125). It is a really marvelous essay about the healing of war trauma through nature as well as re-establishing the harmony of inner and outer. I plan to discuss this in a book I am currently working on using Joseph Campbell’s framework of the Hero’s Journey in working with veterans.
The book ends with Sam Francis’ aphorisms about nature. I’ll end this review with a few choice quotes from him. “Every detail of life is a perpetual blessing. Artists work to show this to everyone. It is an unremembered act of kindness and love to do this,” (137). “As William Blake said, what can be imagined is true,” (139). “Space and time are relative to matter, not imagination,” (140).
This is a short (142 pages) book that is very readable and presents a nice selection of perspectives on the relationship between inner and outer wilderness. It extends Meier’s work as well as the work of Jung. It is of interest from a psychological as well as an ecological perspective, and has a lot of fascinating narratives of personal growth in it, as well.