Survivance - Amba J. Sepie - Editorial—“The Wildness in our Bones”

Editorial—“The Wildness in our Bones”

Amba J. Sepie

Photo: Achilles Photography, NZ, 2020.

July 2021

This feels like an in-between moment—something tricky to be present to, as if we are caught between a contested and violent past and a not-yet that is so damn close we can taste the sweat of it. Is this what the lead up to apocalypse feels like? A veil lifting between the now and the not-yet we know is possible? It seems entirely reasonable to be losing our minds a little.

The war for our souls has been going on for aeons. To be born at this moment now, to exist in this world, now, is to be called to actions we barely comprehend yet. The Elders of disparate cultures all over the globe have determined, in patient and soothing tones, what we must do. It is not mysterious, but it can be difficult to wrap our heads around. The mandate is clear: we need to remember what we are—outside an identity economy that issues suspect instructions on how to be a “good” human, and that the values we live will be the old ones. This is how we make the world better, eventually. We listen to the voices of our human and more-than-human teachers, our ancestral, animal, and plant kin. We learn the old skills of living in a sentient world. This is Big Work.

Simultaneously, we know that the path out of this moment is attached to a bigger cycle of Time, one that will likely eclipse the smaller arcs endeavoured by any individual being. We have to feel our way toward the difference that makes the difference, feel the wildness in our bones, the ancestors in our blood, learn the language of the places where our feet root into Earth, where the waters flow over us, where we are fed true nourishment. Traditions do not come “from above.” They are forged by the intergenerational labor of species, working out the dance of life as it is woven from and Earth and recorded by trees and stars and bacteria to become the stories we fashion into culture.

A concept is not much use when the moment is upon you. If we are to be custodians, as we are called to, we have to learn these skills. As Thomas Berry put it: “We are talking to ourselves. We are not talking to the river, we are not listening to the river. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking the conversation we have shattered the universe.”1 We must pay attention to what we are called to, and simply put, do the work the Gods put in our way. Our insecure attachment to Earth herself derives from our failure to know Her, to recognize her as She, not “it,” and indeed, as a mother—our Mother. This is the illusion blocking our understanding.

The knowledge of how to do the work comes through making sense of this trauma.2 Making sense comes through decolonizing, and decolonizing happens through understanding that “disconnection” from both Earth and Spirit is, and has always been, impossible. What we have lost is not connection, but the awareness of our connection. We are so embedded in a relationship with Earth and all Her children, every rock, every element, every microbe, every other being, or person, that we cannot ever be separated. We are Earth Beings—our Mother is Earth—and consciousness, or Spirit, runs through all of it, every atom and every breath. This is a sentient Earth. To be colonized is to cut oneself off from the stream through which the knowledge of who and what we are comes rushing in.

There is no “special way” to overcome our collective amnesia. The task is just to do it, by whatever means you can find. We do not need to “agree,” but we do need to share a certain kind of custodial ethic: responsibility and accountability for the care, support, and protection of diverse forms of life as kin. We need to hold respect and reverence for life and all other beings as sacred and sentient, and reciprocity in our relationships as based on allowing and facilitating exchange. It might be a plan to throw off our insistence on the magical bartering— or, monetary economies—we have become accustomed to. We have obligations we could be living into, feeding on, and feeding back to.

We do not need to be “the same.” Hell, we are not meant to be “the same.” Earth is about novelty. She can find you wherever you are. And then, it begins.


Thomas Berry, Thomas Clarke, and Stephen Dunn, Befriending the earth: a theology of reconciliation between humans and the earth (Twenty-Third Publications, 1991).


The idea of making sense of, or finding the bigger context of an event in order to prevent trauma is enacted through relationship in many global Indigenous contexts, and has been re-elaborated recently in the work of Tyson Yunkaporta.

Survivance is a collaboration between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and e-flux Architecture.

Editorial, Time, Trauma, Human - Nonhuman Relations, Decolonization
Return to Survivance

Amba J. Sepie is a transdisciplinary author, teacher, and community collaborator working at the nexus of cultural ecology, human geography, and indigenous studies. She is a MBIE Whitinga Research Fellow based at the University of Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.