Thursday, March 6, 2014

This weeks blog is the second in the series of the How To's of Wilderness Rapture and is on the importance of fear and stress on the inner journey into nature or wild places.

The How To’s of Wilderness rapture
1)  Receptivity and Intent (last week's blog.)
2)  Fear and Stress 
3)  Sacred Space and Special Environment 
4)  Connection With Metaphors, Archetypes, and Signs 
5)  Primal, Primeval, and Primitive Experiences 
6)  Humility and Subordination of the Ego 
7)  Peeling Away The Levels of Consciousness Leading to Self Awareness, Peak Experiences, or Moments of Transcendence

Fear and Stress

"It must be a poor life that achieves freedom from fear." Aldo Leopold
Most people fear the unknown, but in fact it is really the known we should fear. Information imposed by past conditioning limits our perspective and holds us in a box of captivity. By going beyond the known, which should be feared, to the unknown, which should be embraced, personal growth is facilitated. It is, however, in this transition from known to unknown where fear and stress occur.
Fear stimulates the autonomic nervous system leading to the classical fight or flight reaction or alternatively can result in freezing or feigning death. This cognitive appraisal of a "threat" varies from individual to individual and depends on each person's appreciation of the event. The evaluation may be appropriate, as when being charged by a lion, or it can be misconceived. In spite of the recognition of danger being incorrect, the autonomic sympathetic nervous system will elicit its usual response and release adrenaline from the adrenal gland resulting in the typical symptoms; dry mouth, dilated pupils, racing pulse, etc.

If we are subjected to unlimited stress, chronic elevation of adrenaline and cortisone levels in the blood stream can cause pathology. This kind of stress, which causes distress or "dis"-ease, can be labeled true stress -- as opposed to eustress. The latter can be a beneficial form of stress leading to a sense of fulfillment once resolution has occurred. One person’s stress may be another person’s eustress.
According to Yoga scriptures, the first or root chakra situated at the coccyx is an energy center responsible for our survival response and fight or flight reaction. Yoga philosophy teaches us that mastery of this primitive chakra is crucial before energy can be channeled upwards into the higher chakras. In the Hero/ine's journey fear must be encountered during both the separation and threshold phases and even during the final stage of incorporation. This will be discussed at a later date.

The San Bushmen Trance dance is a dire rite of passage where the initiate is not only faced with pain but also fear of this "little death" even becoming a true death.
This rendition of Bushman rock art depicts the shaman experiencing a "Kia" state. Vibrational Kundalini like energy rises up the body (called "Num" by the San) and when  Num reaches the crown, Kia occurs (Kung Bushmen terminology. ) The soul then travels out of the crown into the spirit world attached by a silver cord to the body.   If contact with this cord is broken the trance dancer is in danger of losing his life. 
This is transcendence taken to its highest soul level, done altruistically to heal and help the clan.
When nature causes a flight or fight response, we hopefully respond correctly and if we live to tell the tale, there is often a sense of healing. This is different from the chronic low-grade state of emergency that modern day society creates in our autonomic nervous system. A primal first chakra response resulting in a positive outcome usually leads to wholeness and healing. Chronic stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system leads to an excess of adrenaline and cortisone. This can create high blood pressure, raise cholesterol levels and increase atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. It may induce diabetes and decrease immune resistance to diseases.
The army manipulates fear by increasing the complexity of the exercise and the risk factors or level of danger. Fear will increase if there is less time available to complete the task or if there is a withholding of vital information from the soldier.  
Part of Outward Bound and similar organizations' responsibilities is to control this cognitive appraisal of fear in such a way as to extend one's boundaries and abilities without the limitations of past conditioning. Success leads to self-mastery, increase in self-esteem and the recognition of the restrictions we place on ourselves.
Fear as a result of past conditioning relies on memory. The use of successful strategies can lead to a reframing of the old programs that bind and limit us. Overcoming fear and stress in wilderness can be an important catalyst for self-mastery. It can lead to a greater sense of the ego-self, and with the right awareness and intention to higher states of consciousness.
The causes of fear have been labeled in various ways: superstitious and religious, loss to life or limb, organ or function, deep, dark and steep and the unknown. The most critical of all fears, however, is social or the ego. In different studies done in wilderness situations and other areas promoting stress, the social fears were the most prevalent, such as fear of holding the group back or making a fool of oneself. It is in these instances where disastrous situations can arise, e.g. hiking at high altitudes and not admitting or responding to the symptoms of high altitude sickness for fear of being a "loser."This ego driven fear can even prove fatal. 
This may be one of the reasons why the solo journey into wilderness is so powerful. When the individual is alone there is no one except nature to judge. Nature is neutral and also has its own way of humbling the ego and diminishing its significance. If we are on our own there is no reason to protect a fragile ego, and we are more able to slip out of our persona and connect with our higher Self.
The greater the perceived risk, the greater the potential for personal growth and the more lasting the effects of the experience. In other words, especially when it comes to self-mastery, no pain no gain! It is also true, however, that one can have a wilderness peak, rapture or profound transcendent experience without stress or fear being involved.
The "hard skills" type of adventure into wilderness is very much connected with fear and stress which may or may not break through into a connection with the higher Self and wilderness rapture. More likely than not, it will bolster the ego leading to an increase in self-concept, self-esteem, self-mastery and even self-awareness but not necessarily an intimate connection with the true Self of our inner being.
Endurance should not be part of the curriculum unless nature demands it spontaneously and then it can be an added bonus for transformation. Participants like to do things that matter! If a difficult river crossing presents itself and this is the only way of continuing the trek, this is different to doing the same thing as a technical exercise. Whether one is going to “make it” by the end of the day should not be an issue, so that participants can just "be" in the wilderness without having to worry about fending for themselves. With inner directed journeys it should be the responsibility of the leader to take care of the hard skills aspect of the trip and free the group energy for a more life fulfilling experience. It has been said that those with the furthest to go will gain the most and herein lies the essence of what is called "perceived risk." What feels like a life-or-death situation to one person may be a walk in the park to another. The former is likely to be far more impacted by the event than the latter. It follows that anyone can overload on fear and stress and that too much can debilitate the psyche. F.D. Roosevelt was an avid hunter and outdoor’s man until his trip to the Amazon. Apparently after this arduous ordeal he never ventured into wild places again.
My experience in wilderness has been that if one has the right intention, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," even if in the moment of the experience one is not able to see the value of the severe test. The more devastating the experience, the longer it takes to integrate. Something profound is happening at a deep unconscious level that may never be fully appreciated until later when there can be a sense of completion and knowing that this was indeed a valuable, though painful event.
It is usually the least likely candidate who contacts you years later thanking you for what he describes as one of the most profound experiences of his life. Other members of the group may just remember how taxing that individual was at the time and how he had been a detriment to everybody else’s enjoyment. 
Stress, fear and pain carry great power and more primitive cultures have understood this in evolving their rites of passage or initiation ceremonies which are also integral to the Hero/ine's journey. This first chakra "fight or flight" experience is essential for personal growth and if it is bypassed there may be a deficiency in the spectrum of self-mastery. There seem to be two dynamics; the self-mastery that occurs in the hard skills experience that is more outward and masculine, and the more transcendent experience that happens in the realm of soft skills which is more inward and feminine. Severe trials and tribulations can be encountered in a feminine, soft way and be overcome by the psyche at another level, bypassing the ego. The challenge resolved by hard skills that bolsters ego and self-esteem is always the easier one to talk about over a few beers around a campfire. The other, dealt with at a deep level in the psyche is not something we can put on the mantelpiece and boast about but it has a more profound spiritual significance.
Manipulating fear and stress during the teaching of hard skills can lead to increased self-mastery, self-concept, and self-esteem, important first steps on the path to self-actualization and eventually, possibly even Self-realization.  
Magical changes to one's being can occur in the context of fear and stress. This can also occur outside of nature such as; losing a job or a loved one or developing a critical health problem. What one does with the event and our intention and receptivity will determine whether "we turn the shit into manure"... or not.
The use of the "soft skills" will likely create an inner directed experience that puts us in touch with the transcendent where fear and stress may not necessarily participate. Candidates for inner journeys into wilderness may be less far along the path to physical mastery and less accustomed to physical ordeals than those adept in hard skills. Nevertheless, if Nature offers up her challenges of Her own accord, the effects arising out of fear and stress can be life altering.
The power of nature is such that it offers us whatever we need in that present moment. Depending on our receptivity, this can be processed in such a way as to help us on our path of personal development. In the words of The Rolling Stones: "You can't always get what you want. But if you try, you just might find, you get what you need."

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