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Rewilding: A Cultural Meme for Rehabilitating Our Hearts

"Rewilding Our Hearts" calls for personal and spiritual transformation.

Rewilding is all the rage

The notion of "rewilding" is receiving a good deal of attention in books such as George Monbiot's Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life (the original title is Feral: Searching for Enchantment On the Frontiers of Rewilding), J. B. MacKinnon's The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be, and in my own Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence. In all of these books, rewilding -- to make wild once again -- calls for a personal transformation and journey to undo the unwilding that occurs in the lives of many people, including youngsters. In his excellent book, George Monbiot recalls how by watching salmon fly through the air he became enraptured and felt as if he “had passed through the invisible wall that separated me form the ecosystem, as if I were no longer a visitor to that place but an inhabitant. … It was then that I realized that a rewilding, for me, had already begun.” (page 255) An editorial in New Scientist magazine (March 1, 2014) noted that "Rewilding is all the rage in conservation circles."

In a recent video interview I did about my book, I recounted how rewilding is necessary if we are to make the future better for other humans, other animals, and all of our homes. As I was doing the interview it came to me that rewilding is all about rehabilitating our hearts and souls and love for ourselves, other animals, and the places we call home. This personal and spiritual journey also calls for rewilding education and more humane education, along with rewilding the media, so that youngsters get out into and respect nature and other animals are represented for whom they are, not what we want them to be. Why have kids if they’re headed into an impoverished world? Of course, part of rewilding means that we need to stop making more of us, as overpopulation and over-consumption are decimating us and our one and only wondrous planet. Less really can be more.

In my work with inmates at the Boulder County Jail as part of Jane Goodall's global Roots & Shoots program I also talk about rewilding and how important it is for them to reconnect with other humans, other animals, and habitats for their own good. Just today, when I was talking with the students in my class at the jail, many mentioned how important it is for them to "get outside" or daydream about being outside to relieve their alienation from nature. When I asked them what rewilding meant to them, one student said that he thinks of rewilding as rehabilitating oiled birds, for example, and that it is our duty to do so. They also talked about how we are innately and deeply connected to nature, that biophilia is real, and that's why it feels so good to be outside and in the company of other animals. It reduces fragmentation and instills wholeness.

Unleashing our hearts

In his Foreword for my book, renowned author and visionary Richard Louv sees rewilding as part of the New Nature Movement that "includes but goes beyond traditional environmentalism and sustainability; one that maximizes the potential of nature to enhance our minds, our personal and societal vibrancy, and our resilience." (page xiv) He also notes that "Rewilding is achieved through the most radical of acts: opening ourselves to others. In essence, it is about unleashing our hearts." (page vx)

Rewilding calls for humility, is open to all, and is simple, concrete, and personal. Individuals can choose how to rewild and follow the path that best fits their interests and needs in terms of how they reconnect and interact with other people, other animals, and their homes. Rewilding also calls for being open to learning about all views and being kind even to people with whom one disagrees. We need to talk with others, not to them or at them.

Rewilding: A cultural meme for rehabilitating our hearts

Rewilding is rehabilitation process that will result in much closer and deeper reciprocal connections with other humans and other animals and their homes, and if enough people rewild themselves, rewilding will become a heartfelt and heartful cultural meme that fosters behavior patterns that will spread from person to person and to future generations as a form of cultural evolution. In my book I write about the eight p's of rewilding -- being proactive, positive, persistent, patient, peaceful, practical, powerful, and passionate -- and I've recently added two more, namely, the importance of being playful and being present.

We really need a heartfelt revolution in how we think, what we do with what we know, and how we act. Rewilding can be a very good guide and is all about acting from the inside out. The revolution has to come from deep within us and begin at home, in our heart and wherever we live. We’ll never have the world we previously had, but the longer we wait the less likely the future will be a good one for those who follow in our wake.

While we won't ever get back the world we once had, we all need to do all we can to make sure that future generations inherit a planet that is the very best we can leave them. Rewilding is a great arena for all to meet and to move into a challenging and complicated future. As I've written before, ecocide is suicide and the end result is that we will all benefit from rewilding and becoming re-enchanted with the magnificent world in which we live.

Note: The cover for my book was given to me by Thomas Mangelsen, Images of Nature. Please also see Lybi Ma's "Take a Walk on the Rewild Side."

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also), Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also), and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence. The Jane effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) will be published in 2015. (; @MarcBekoff)

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