Saturday, February 8, 2014

The San Bushmen & Wilderness Rapture.

The San and other hunter-gatherers close to the earth are an ideal model for those of us wishing to formulate our own spiritual nature practice. Few of us will ever know what it feels like 
to be a hunter-gatherer, to be so connected to wilderness that one needs it to survive. A Bushman can walk into the Kalahari and live indefinitely with his antelope skin bag housing a fire kit, a bow and poison arrows, a digging stick for foraging and a sipping straw to suck water out of tree hollows or from sip wells in the sand. The true hunter-gatherer relates to nature beyond the five senses and lives in a psycho-spiritual dimension that we can appreciate but rarely experience. However, we can hunt and gather in the supermarket, fill our backpacks and walk into the wilderness for several days or more, or rent a cabin in some remote wild place. These simple acts can have profound healing consequences and help us connect with a part of ourselves that may have been lost in the eons of time. The essence of this inner journey is to keep it simple and have the minimum of material possessions between ourselves and nature. Anything that separates us from the Earth Mother must be carefully scrutinized, whether it be a horse and its care or a camera. It one ventures forth on foot with a backpack it is unlikely that anything redundant will be carried. 
Many medics are very familiar with wilderness medicine in so far as it could help one or one’s fellow travelers get out of sticky health situations in the bush. However, there is another kind of nature medicine -- healing or restoration resulting from the special qualities of wilderness itself. Few people use wilderness as spiritual practice or for deep inner healing. There is little information to be gleaned from the few books that talk to the subject. The wilderness psychology literature is full of data, but usually the closest one can get to the word "healing" is the term "restorative." The psychology information seems limited since the authors only report what can be objectively measured and most of what happens in wilderness cannot be put  into words. Transcendence and healing in the wild has been labeled the “wilderness effect” but I prefer the more powerful term that speaks to the psycho-spiritual transformation that can occur there i.e. “wilderness rapture.” This may manifest as the Peak Experience described by Maslow. 
Martin Buber said, "All men have access to God, but each man has a different access." Nature is a preferred environment for rapture and healing especially if immersed in for several days or more. 

Yoga philosophy would say this mini-samadhi occurs when the observer (you,) the observed (say a sunset) and the process of you observing the sunset all fuse into one. This has also been called unity consciousness or the oneness experience. For a brief ecstatic period one fuses with or becomes the sunset and enters the "Field." Many of us may have had this experience but also may have trivialized it and not validated it.

“Those of us who have spent time in wilderness are aware of the fact that there is something more to the wilderness than we ourselves can express. Wilderness is an instrument for enabling us to recover our lost capacity for religious experience...”
 We cannot today recreate the original wilderness man in shape form or habitat. But we can recover him because he exists in us. He is the foundation in spirit or psyche on which we build and we are not complete until we have recovered him (or her)…” Laurens van der Post
Jung, Maslow and ancient wisdom have said the search for the true Self or real Self or higher Self is at the core of all human motivation. Whether we know it or not, we are searching for this connection and the drive is always present, even if subconscious. The higher Self, is that God-like part of ourselves, the soul, our Buddha Self or in Yoga texts, the Atman. In order to reach our inner being or higher Self, we must subordinate ego to that Self.
For many, access to the true Self can occur in nature. The most impressive quality of the San is their apparent lack of ego or the small self. It is this more than anything that seems to confer on them a sense of wholeness. They appear to be in much closer contact with their inner being than many of us. It is also this humility that enables them to negotiate the spirit world so expertly through their healing trance dance. Their healers say that one has to open the heart to be a good healer. You must love everyone no matter what you think of them. This is difficult for most of us to do. The San manage to reach these higher states of consciousness not by any esoteric practice but by their intrinsic connection with nature alone and by exposure to the multifaceted properties she possesses.  Nature is a room with many doors and windows to spirit and has all the polarities required for Self realization as many great mystics have understood. It is in wilderness that we can find the middle way described by the Buddha. It is between the opposing dynamics of up/down, hot/cold, terrified/tranquil, thirst/quenched, hungry/satisfied, light /dark, exhausted/rested, wet/dry that we can find equanimity. The San's ability to transcend ego, open their hearts and travel out of body during their trance dance is a testament of the power of these influences.  Nature herself can be a meditation and “leave no trace” or minimum impact camping is a form of mindfulness practice. Solitude may be part of the experience and if one adds to this any number of inner-directed techniques such as meditation, breath work, drumming, ceremony and ritual the power of the wild outdoors can be amplified tremendously. The key thing is to have the right intention. Many go into wild places to work out, stress bust, run rapids, conquer mountains and bag peaks. This militaristic form of lingo and the experience of wilderness rapture may be mutually exclusive. Nature always bats last and it is often the mountaineer who gets bagged and the river that is running the kayaker and not always in the best way.

Wilderness is another way to connect with our inner being and the closer we can get to the model of the hunter-gatherer the more powerful the rapture. Experiencing nature in the right way is not only non denominational but is a tool for transcending ego and reaching for a deeper reality.

At the moment I am organizing to show a video on the Bushman trance dance on U tube since it does not seem to download to this blog. Look for it next week.
PS. Please excuse the changing font size. Some was copied and pasted into the blog from my book Inner Passages Outer Journeys and would not comply when an attempt was made to change it.


  1. Thank you for reminding us of who we truly are and for everything that you have done for me.