Ode to the Jungle
You’ll be drawn to jungles. Maybe it’s the name, jungle. You feel something from its sound before you can even connote from it. Jungle. It moves all over the mouth trying to get out, full and rich, it is not slight.
There is no better place to understand the balance of growth and death, the way
greenery and darkness form one another, than the jungle. Sit in the jungle and you’ll need no esoteric lessons on renewal or rebirth, cycles and death, life succumbing. Those truths will smother you.
And if time is true, if ongoing is true, if change and evolving is true, then it’s true that we humans were spat out by the jungles. Formed in the humid, elevated incubators of their foliage, surviving above the ground and its constant peril, suckling on the fecundity dripping from all places. Until the growing savanna and dwindling forest forced us to crawl out like a marsupial from its momma’s pouch, pink and scared and timid in the new grassland environment.
You’ll feel it when you’re near the jungle in Africa. There is no child that doesn’t know its mother. You won’t understand how it can be, this sense of home in a foreign land. How it calls to you and soothes you and invites you into it, how your layers peel away like a lifetime of winter coats dropped on the hearth. How can this be? You’ll ask yourself, wondering if your imagination is playing some kind of trick on you, making up stories to fool you.
But it is not the frontal lobe that is firing when you reach the jungle. It is the base of the brain, the amygdala, the part that was primary when you were a brand-new species blinking and crying. You were like all the others, a jungle babe, gnawing and nibbling in the ferns and tree branch bassinets, until you grew your adaptation and became a new thing: a being with self-aware consciousness.
Like every adult who sits down in a sanctuary, you will harken back to that base being in yourself with a yearning, the one that recalls being alive without being separate. You will long to remember what it was to be before the fortress of consciousness descended upon you.
In the jungle you will find it. Unlike the quiet practices on mats and in temples and at pews, in the jungle you will not have to recede to grow aware of the primariness of life. Even while flapping about between the nettles and buzzing insects it will desecate you from the litany of thoughts that constitute your Self. The base nature you long to reconnect with will fuse outward with the environment like an electric current, spawning a network of tendrils without your thinking a thought.
You will not have to try to be aware of your inner life, it will ripple out of you so quickly in so many directions that your external awareness picks it up as easily as a downpour. You can bask in it, as if Odysseus returned to everything just as it was; a favorite childhood morning as a diorama to inhabit.
And then, if you spend enough time in the jungle, it will humble you to pieces. It will render you obsolete. It will send you scampering for the edges and the only vine that can save you, humanity, resplendent and sprawling. As it reminds of your source, your birthplace, your origin, so too it will remind you the cost of such insight. To be again one with the jungle is to live by its edicts, and they are swift and unending in their peril. You may wonder if the adaptation of consciousness wasn’t a desperate attempt to get out of that place, to land somewhere softer, somewhere with more space between encroaching enemies and terminal conditions.
In the same way gravity beckons water from a tilted glass, so too the jungle will draw madness out of you. You may not know it’s even there, or perhaps you’ve owned the aberrations and consider them a personal ornament; either way, in the jungle you will discover it. And you will discover it is not yours. It is not some particular response your personality has to the state of being, it is the tempestuous call of life itself wishing to howl and climb and swing and jump and slide and ooze and bellow.
It is not like life in the ocean or desert, playing with the eccentricities space provides. It is life upon life, a defining by immediate contrast and confrontation. There is then no room for contemplation or waiting, there is now and fullness and vibrance, or there is the immediate onset of decay.
Embrace it. In the same way that something snaps when you jump out of a plane, something breaks when you feel the madness of the jungle. An inner apparition bulging from your skin that wants to leave everything human behind and run deeper into it. If you step into it just enough, a leash will break. A leash you didn’t even know was there until you feel its absence. Luxuriate in that feeling, encode it in your being, so when you return from the jungle you might carry it like a magic elixir to be drunk when needed.
Because the trick, my dear one, is that the rules of the jungle apply just as surely on the sidewalks and in the houses and along the skywalks connecting the skyscrapers as the amid the creepers and figs. But you will not experience this first-hand. You will experience a mass feigning, as if everyone else has incorporated some invisible playbook so meticulously that you can’t find its binding or pages; you’ll only sense its effect, in every interaction.
This is no tyranny in and of itself. The first step out of the jungle was hand in hand. The pre-frontal cortex and its mystic waft of awareness can seem ethereal, but its function is utilitarian. We survive as a whole. We may battle about who is in and out of the whole, but we do not survive alone. We developed the capacity of awareness to see one another beyond instinct, to read and intuit nuances. The way out of the jungle was to stop acting like we were in the jungle.
But the trappings of this adaptation have created monolithic structures which precede our individual arrival in life. Institutions we call them. Some benign, some beneficial, and some downright insidious. We cannot manage without them, but so too they may suffocate and bind you like a python. You will have to learn which is which. And if all you have to rely on is what you’ve been taught by other humans, you’re trapped. Your only tools of discernment will be shaped and provided by the institutions themselves.
You must come into contact with the primary rules themselves, with the fundamental cravings and balances and behaviors and lessons that life gave before humans stamped their systems upon them. Systems which were designed not to liberate but to funnel, channeling your adherence and energy towards the maw of those large institutions to feed upon.
The jungle is that place to learn. Yes, learn to sit still as well. In quiet you may plunge beneath the constructed apparatus of your consciousness and peak at the abyss, but you may be inclined to passivity if that is your only teacher. The screech and cackle of a primate at sunset is no less realized than the quiet hum of a monk in the mountains.
Go the jungle. And fight for the jungle. See why it is shrinking, see what shrinks it. The forces that would eliminate it are not your friend, they will not serve you or save you, they will confine and encrypt you into a monotony of orgiastic sameness. An institutional celebration of homogeny so decadent that imitation will feel like revelation. Do not let that disease set upon you. Go to the jungle. Feel what it is, feel what it teaches.
Know that in defending it as viciously as a leopard defends its kill, you are defending yourself. Your birthright, your palace, your cathedral, your origin; the you that is, before any name or culture or institution bludgeoned itself upon you. No matter where you were born, no matter where you are from, it is yours.
Yours to return to, yours to need, yours to rely upon for a nip of the garden when you need. It is your womb. Fight for it like it is your mother. And when you go to it, it will know. It will seed within you that which no human, no priest or shaman or celebrity or icon or even teacher, can bestow upon you; it will give you the memory of your umbilical cord.
You will once again feel the pulse that made you.