The Wilderness of Being

To write the poem of the human conscience, were it only of a single man, were it only of the most infamous of men, would be to swallow up all epics in a superior and final epic. The conscience is the chaos of chimeras, of lusts and of temptations, the furnace of dreams, the cave of the ideas which are our shame; it is the pandemonium of sophisms, the battlefield of the passions.
— Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

You are an unbelievably complex being, living this unbelievably complex thing called life, all within an unbelievably complex universe.

As you piece it all together, day after day, you create this unbelievably complex thing called "reality".

This reality is made up of many interests, beliefs, desires, fears, longings, loves, thoughts, to-do's, relationships, cravings, struggles, memories, and dreams.

And each day, you choose which tiny parts of this complex existence you give your precious and limited attention to. Choosing actually creates this thing you call your reality - one tiny choice at a time.

The more attention you give to one part of your being today, the more likely you are to give attention to that same part tomorrow....and over time, that focused attention becomes your reality.

The flip-side is also true: the less attention you give to one part of your being today, the less likely you are to give attention to that same part tomorrow. 

What you habitually think largely determines what you will ultimately become.
— Bruce Lee


The Harm In Forgetting All You Are

While this focus on the same parts of your being + reality can be grounding and comforting, it can also be harmful.

When you do and think the same thing day after day, you tend to forget that there is any other way to be or to think. You reinforce the parts of yourself, the truths, the worldviews that you've given attention to.

You forget the wilderness of being.

How do you know if you've fallen into this forgetting? 

Think about how you feel when a new concept captures your attention - for example, the idea that you are stardust. Or when you are invited to express a part of yourself that you usually don't (for example, a mom who goes out for a date night and gets to dress into her sexy self). Think about how you feel after watching a show about the mysteries of our planet, or catching the scent of something from your childhood, or after hearing of the superhero capabilities of an otherwise ordinary person.

Something feels awakened within you.

These experiences and stories remind us of truths we have forgotten – of just how vast and mysterious the universe, life, time, death, humanity, and you as an individual, actually are.

And yet, even as awe-inspiring as it feels when you remember, life rushes you along. You tend to hurry back to forgetting. 

It is not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient one, too.
— H.W. Shaw

Sadly, this "inconvenience" that leads to our forgetting contributes to many areas of suffering, including:

  • the ubiquitous and painful mid-life crisis
  • inability to build sustainable, fully-expressed, and healthy relationships
  • the continuous (and insatiable) craving for something other,
  • addictions (which creep up because you are trying to satisfy a deeper longing that you aren’t even aware is a part of you),
  • physical injury (such as stumbles or dietary illness resulting from not paying attention or being aware of your own body and its needs),
  • environmental damage (being disconnected from the understanding that our environment is part of our well-being and/or being disconnected from direct, harmful consequences),

and perhaps the worst but least appreciated –

  • a disappearing sense of enchantment and wonder with life itself.


When you RE-MEMBER (bring back together the parts of the whole), you begin to benefit from the opposite of all of these painful experiences.

The more aware you are of your many selves, the more free you are to choose a "self" to be - while remaining authentically YOU - in a variety of diverse situations.

You are more likely to recognize your self in another being, creating a more empathetic connection with that person.

You'll still face daily struggles and challenges, but instead of staying stuck within those, you embrace your multitudes. You feel more vibrant because you are able to navigate those struggles as a creative flow of "beings" instead of stuck in one habitual, self-sabotaging path. 

You practice the Exhale, expressing those selves in daily life, and end up attracting things that resonate with and support those parts of you.

Parker Palmer writes for one of my favorite organizations / communities: OnBeing. In one of his posts, he addresses embracing both the light AND the shadow sides of one's self. (Many of those parts I mentioned above are parts we've forgotten or ignored because we see them as negative, undesirable, or incompatible with the life we've created....shadow selves.) His view? "To be fully human, we must embrace all of it." 


Personally? I'm a mom, a writer, a photographer, a sensual woman, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wise woman, an ignorant woman, an awareness artist, a selfish being, a giving being, forgetful, time-aware, a home-creator, a schedule-keeper, ... I could go on for hours.

My practice, EVERY minute of every day, is trying to stay as broadly aware of all of those parts of myself while I focus on creatively choosing which part(s) I'll express in that moment.

But sometimes, like you, even if I'm aware of my many selves - I don't get to choose. And even if I do choose (for example, trying to be a brilliant mother), sometimes life unexpectedly calls me to another role (for example, being a supportive daughter).

The wilderness of being is just that - wild and chaotic.

So how do you flow with it all??


The Practice

This practice of exploring the many parts of your being begins in vast SPACE – that space of mindfulness + non-judgment.

You are always changing, as is the world around you. You - and life and others and reality - it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense because one thing contradicts another, but those very contradications simultaneously exist. It doesn't make sense because it is so vast and always changing, and our understanding can't encompass or keep up with it all. 

For the good or bad, we tend to judge that which doesn't make sense or that doesn't fit into our preconceived notions. We do this so that we can feel more comfortable with it ... so that, in one sense, it CAN be known. (A judgment at least gives it a label.) 

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
— Henry David Thoreau

As you start to practice deeper self-awareness and remember the vastness of being, the primary and biggest obstacle will be self-judgment. YOU will contradict YOU. That’s the beauty and the challenge of it: You are a myriad of beings and those parts don’t have to play nicely together.

Your initial instinct might be to judge parts of yourself as superior or negative, and then to honor or ignore parts of yourself based off those judgments. ("I'm an intelligent woman so I'll start acting more so in daily conversations, but I'm also a physically clumsy perhaps I'll just sit more while having those conversations.")

But doing so limits your ability to embrace those parts of yourself that aren’t going to go away simply because you don’t want them to be there. It also causes you to solidify into a false sense of self, by clinging to those parts of yourself that you deem acceptable by others while trying to stuff the rest into the back of the closet where hopefully no one will see).

In our wilderness of being, the light and shadow sides are all important. Your left eye is no more important than your right, your left leg no more important than your right. Remove the judgment, recognize the whole, and begin breaking apart those habituated thoughts.

Try asking yourself these questions:

  • What roles do I play in a typical day, week, and month?
  • What personas (or ways of presenting yourself in the world) do I feel I have? What ones did I have when I was 5 years old? 12? 21? 30? 40? How do each of those personas from across the years show themselves in my life now?
  • What parts of myself do I keep hidden from the world? What would I do and how would I feel if I were called / asked to express those parts? How well do I know those parts of myself?
  • If future me, past me, and current me had a conversation, what parts of myself would only one version of me be able to speak about (i.e. if only past me remembers being creatively free, or future me knows of feeling socially comfortable)? How does that make me (current me) feel?

With these questions, seek explorations - not answers. You may have an "ah-hah", but you are aren't trying to find THE answer that will solve all of your problems. 

Instead, we're asking different questions to get you thinking in different ways. We're opening different doors so that you can peek in and perhaps see different parts of yourself.

We're trying to purposefully get lost in the wilderness so that you can find ways of seeing and being that you never knew were possible.

Explore (as much as possible) in the space of mindful non-judgment. Embrace the wilderness of being, starting with yourself, and starting with today - this mundane, precious day.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite-of-all-time quotes:


Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
— Walt Whitman