I have started writing a new book. The working title is Uncultivated. The book is a celebration of rawness, wildness, “not giving a damn”-ness and of intuition, deeply felt empathy and connectivity. My youngest son lives these words, every day! But it seems that allowing oneself to be raw, authentic, and to live in deep connection with one’s natural surroundings and inner longings disappears somewhere along the path of growing up. My oldest son who is a teenager has already lost a big part of it, and my inner raw child has more or less completely vanished.
This book is inspired by my youngest son’s behaviour, anecdotes and insights. Not that he is any wiser than other children, not that he is any more special than other children (well of course to me he is), but because all children have an inherent sense of authenticity and mindfulness.
At this moment of writing he is 7 years old. He is still very much a child and still very raw and in-tuned with his intuition and his surrounding world. Especially his way of being with and around animals is a manifestation of his rawness; I actually don’t think he views himself and them as being separated.
But I am already starting to sense cultivation sneaking in; it shows itself in sudden self-awareness or in self-doubt and it colours his stories and experiences.
Being cultivated is interlinked with being educated, refined, sophisticated, enlightened – but also with being civilized, disciplined, well-behaved, neat and tidy, sociable, polite, nice, or even polished and formal.
But what is the opposite? Synonyms for uncultivated are words like uneducated, simple, uncivilized and primitive. The uncultivated human being is raw, unpolished, or even barbaric and crude. The uncultivated is associated with something shapeless, uncontrolled, and wild.
Does education thus imply being molded, formed, created? Are we initially shapeless lumps of clay?
There is a degree of unpredictability in being uncultivated. Maybe that’s why most synonyms for uncultivated are negatively charged or connote something savage. Maybe it is raw spontaneity that we wish to eliminate by cultivation, by refinement?
But something is lost in the cultivation and smoothening of all things raw. Something important that becomes obvious to me when I watch my son jumping out of the door ready to embrace yet another day in his own raw, “no damn given” kind of way. Something that is connected to vitality and to deep, innate joy.
Not that all cultivation is bad. Not at all. As Erik Fromm so rightly writes in Escape from Freedom: society doesn’t only have an oppressive function (but it does have one!, says Fromm), it also has a formative function. The only way to avoid oppression however, and to embrace creative, construction formation and socialisation is to enter into a spontaneous, free relationship with other human beings and with nature – a relationship that connects us with our surroundings without destroying our integrity.
The book is divided into ten sections that discuss the “truisms” or commandments of cultivation. The ten commandments of the late-modern cultivated individual are:
- We have to adapt and behave
- We are superior to animals
- We are separated from nature
- We must be ambitious
- We have to work hard
- What cannot be explained is not true
- Death is dangerous
- Decay must be defeated
- Time is linear
- God is dead
Being uncultivated is the antithesis to these commandments.
The following is a short extract from the book.
Decay must be defeated
He finds a large dead butterfly in our bedroom. It is laying on the floor with sparkly beautiful bluish wings. It hasn’t been dead for long. He’s excited. Can you believe that it chose to die right here, Mum? he says with radiant eyes. Isn’t it incredible that we get to see it like this before the ants start to devour it, I reply. Yes! He is happy. Wants to get paper and crayons and draw it. I want to see when the ants eat it, he says, I want to see it disappear.
The other morning a large cocoon that had been stuck to our bathroom wall for some time was empty; the brand new butterfly had left it. Such are the cycles of nature: flora and fauna change, decay, and perish. The beauty and magic of nature lies in many ways in these changes and in decay. The changing light of the sky; thunderclouds that drift in and darken everything, and rainbows that for short moments create above-ground coloured streaks, fog that eases, rain that gets denser and heralds the coming of autumn, fruit that when it is most ripe and aromatic is on the verge of rot, the perfumed scent of hyacinths culminating just before they wither, leaves withering and turning to soil and nourishment for other plants, bubbling spring-announcing buds: all a still life and landscape painters’ favourite motifs. Why? Because change holds the possibility of seeing and understanding; contrasts and contradictions are prerequisites for insight – and within decay lies the seed for something new.
Decay and perishability, however, are not exactly favourite themes in the life of cultivated, modern human beings. These elements of life are fought and denied, polished and smoothed. The consensus seems to be that the ravages of time are disfiguring. But against time we stand defeated. And by insisting on immutability and smoothness, we act against one of the, in my perspective, most liberating and uplifting “truths” of all, namely that everything is always changing: that the only constant in human life is change. To me, these sentences are liberating because they contain dynamism, movement, and vitality. They are the antitheses to the stagnant and static. Not because there is something wrong with a certain degree of stagnancy, stillness or anchoring in one’s life, not at all; but because if one convulsively clings to the status quo and opposes the natural course and traces of time and the currents in one’s life, one risks overlooking the beauty of allowing oneself to float, openly and freely. And furthermore, one overlooks the beauty of the raw and the weathered; of the beautifying traces of usage on a beloved object. Never allowing oneself to get carried away and let go of control creates blockages in one’s life: my son knows this instinctively, and every single day he lets go and floats along and away, which creates enormous amounts of presence and creativity in his existence.
I will be sharing more about the book on Instagram in the coming months. Feedback and comments are received with gratitude!