Book review: Rewilding our Hearts

Rewilding our Hearts, and Marc Bekoff with a wolf. Image from "Read the Spirit".

Rewilding our Hearts, and Marc Bekoff with a wolf. Image from “Read the Spirit”.

Bekoff, Marc. Rewilding our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence.  Novato, CA., New World Library, 2014.

“When human beings lose their connection to nature, to heaven and earth, then they do not know how to nurture their environment or how to rule their world – which is saying the same thing. Human beings destroy their ecology at the same time that they destroy one another. From that perspective, healing our society goes hand in hand with healing our personal, elemental connection with the phenomenal world” -Chogyam Trungpa.

This quote opens Marc Bekoff’s Rewilding our Hearts, and it sums up the central theme and argument of the book: that our current ecological crisis is a personal crisis, and that the solution to our society’s imbalanced relationship with nature has to involve changing our mind-set and how we interact with it.

In wildlife conservation, the term “Rewilding” refers to restoring habitats and creating “corridors” between preserved areas to allow declining species populations to recover.

Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, takes this concept and applies it to ourselves, suggesting that we can heal our disordered relationship with the natural world by “Rewilding our hearts” at a personal, community and broader sociological level.

Bekoff says that “Rewilding our hearts is about becoming re-enchanted with nature. It is about nurturing our sense of wonder. Rewilding is about being nice, kind, compassionate, empathic, and harnessing our inborn goodness and optimism”.

By contrast, much of society today is the result of “unwilding”: “the process by which we become alienated from nature and non-human animals; it’s how we deny our impacts and refuse to take responsibility for them; and it’s how we become discouraged and overwhelmed, and thus fail to act despite the problems we see”.

Rewilding our Hearts is a short book, only 150 pages (followed by a large amount of references, bibliographies and endnotes) and it only took me two days to read through it. But it is vast in its scope, taking a “big-picture” look at the problems facing our world today, including climate change, overpopulation, loss of biodiversity and ecological devastation, and proposes a way to begin to fix them.

Bekoff does not dwell on the negatives. While he sets out in no uncertain terms the severity of the problems we face, he remains an optimist, and sees Rewilding, both in the ecological sense and in the sense of Rewilding our hearts, as the key solution, a way of returning to a deep, even spiritual, sense of connection and interdependence with nature.

Rewilding our hearts fundamentally takes place at a personal level: by spending time in nature, immersing ourselves in it, learning its ways and adapting to it, we can be filled with a love of the natural world and non-human species that can inspire us to work for change, great or small, and start Rewilding our world as well.

This is not a task for governments or politicians alone, this is a task for us all.

Rewilding our Hearts is a clarion call to action, and to deeper contemplation as well. While by no means a Pagan book, it is one I would recommend to anyone on a nature-centred spiritual path such as Druidry or Paganism.

Bekoff concludes by saying:

“We live in a magnificent and wounded world. Despite all of the rampant destruction and abuse, it remains a magnificent world filled with awe and wonder. If you’re not in awe, you’re not paying attention. So let’s get on with it. Open your heart to nature and rewild as you go through your daily routines and rituals. The beginning is now.”