I once knew a sacred language. An instinct that outstripped my cultivation had provided the substance of my art. With time, the channel became obstructed. Thinking took precedence over feeling. I’ve learned to become civilized, and yet, I lament the loss of my native guide.
Children perform from a place of freedom. Adults, by contrast, are bound by theories, experiences and self-consciousness. We carry so much with us, like a house full of stuff. With all this clutter, it’s sometimes difficult to navigate within our own home. Even the world we have designed for ourselves is filled with noise. It is, therefore, necessary to unlearn certain practices so that we may relearn how to be human.
Learning to be human is the central theme of Robert Wolff’s Original Wisdom. In the book, Wolff, a trained psychologist, recounts his time studying the ethnic groups in Malaysia. One group was the Malays, who straddled the modern and old worlds. The other group was the Sng’oi — the People as they call themselves — an elusive tribe of aborigines whose gentle voice echoed the age of the forests in which they dwelt. Through his acquaintance with the Malays and enigmatic Sng’oi, Wolff gained a new understanding of what it means to know.
Five years since Original Wisdom came into my life, I’ve turned often to the book for its penetrating insights. The stories reveal a modern man’s awakening to the limitations of his own conditioning. Following Wolff’s experiences, I came to see that those we deem as primitive may possess a knowledge beyond our own. While the Sng’oi spend their days content with simplicity, our desires remain insatiable. Perhaps we’re all running away rather than moving towards…
Something is always lost in evolution. As an infant grows into her youth, she trades her innocence for selfhood. As the youth grows into adulthood, she trades curiosity for desire. Till at last, she returns to the place before conception, naked without a possession.
No, we cannot wholly abandon the merits of our intellect for a return to innocence — we’ve tasted the fruit, Eden is lost. But how, then, do we recover our forsaken knowledge? Here’s a start: turn off your devices, take a step into the woods, and feel.