Outdoor Education: Cultivating Explosive Personal Growth

Yes, we can cultivate explosive personal growth through outdoor education.  I know folks who are constantly growing.  Each time I see them they are learning a new skill, showing me something they made, sharing a story about their last adventure.  Some are retired, some are still plugged in to the 9-5, and some are young.  They all have a hunger for life.   At some point a few refused to surrender something.  Others kept it protected and found ways to let it grow.  This something is their wild spirit.  It is that which compels us to take risks, stick our finger in the cake icing, and climb trees.

I also see folks who stopped chasing that wild spirit.  Theirs is a big story wrapped in responsibility, maturity and many other solid reasons.  Logically, who wouldn’t choose a predictable, acceptable, and expected way to live out ones days?  It is so much safer to endure all that domestication has to offer.   You get to watch nature shows, no mosquitoes to annoy you if you venture out.   Watching nature on the edge of the lawn is enough.  Sure, it is a rut of routine, but it’s like a well-worn comfy set of slippers you wouldn’t trade for the world.

Daily, we each face an unending series of choices.  Many of your choices provide you with comfort and/or safety.  Others will cause us to grow and increase our awareness, intellect, experience level, and problem solving skills.  Not one of us is completely choosing one of these choices over the other.  It is important to know, however, that these choices have consequences.  What “price” are you about to pay for choosing the safe and secure path at the expense of taking risks?  Are you completely fine going to your grave with never having felt what it’s like to walk in a thunderstorm through the woods at night?  Is it a far easier choice for you to feel warm and cozy in a house with a lightening rod attached?

On the other hand, how would you remain in any relationship if all of your choices deferred to risk taking, adventure, and doing the thing you never experienced.  What would that look like?  A career would be tough.  “I wonder what happens if I don’t pay the bills”, is a tough choice to make, even in the land of the free and home of the brave.   Legal and medical costs could get astronomical.

Being too grounded in safe choices is the domesticated mind.  It surrenders to conformity and convenience.  It is the parts of the brain reserved for mammalian responses.  The tendency to choose safe places to build our shelter, our ability to work together as hunting parties or “teams”, and many other useful cultural and individual tools come from these areas of our mind.  However, it is only a fraction of the potential that can be accessed through outdoor education.

A vital remnant of our hunter gather past is housed in our mammalian brain.  It compels us to rest when we aren’t pursuing calories.  In nature this is conservation of energy is efficient.  In modern society, the cheese doodles and remote often make this trait detrimental to our health.  Compounding this is a population that lives most of their waking lives in their heads.  Many are also wrestling with a sugar addiction.  Sedentary bodies, high stress levels, and a diet rich in calories and nearly devoid of nutrients is the obscene extreme of only choosing to “fit in”, or “not rock the boat”.  How many of us are crippled in to inaction by the concern of what others might think?  Read the story “jumping mouse” if you know that NOT fitting in would be detrimental to your career.  Be warned.  Story is one of the powerful tools used to re-wild minds.

Initially, “risk taking” choices are a component of our more primitive “reptilian” brain.  The areas of the brain responsible for these reptilian responses are important for flight, fight, food,  and reproduction.  Out of this area come lightening quick reflexes, unusual strength, increased stamina, and a heightened sense of awareness.  The body gets an adrenal “rush” to facilitate these things.  It is the reason for so many solo “high risk” sports.  White water rafting, rock climbing, and skydiving are great examples of purposely tweaking the reptilian response for the adrenaline high.  Just remember the old saying, “There are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old bold climbers”.

The reptilian mind is all about self-preservation.  For all of it’s speed it can be heartless.  Documentation of survivors of ships going down reveal repeated cases of people climbing on top of each other to breath.  Many folks drown because of this “panicked” reptilian response.   Most thrill seekers have no intention of harming others and they don’t.

This is important if you want to continue your own growth.  Once you completely develop through the reptile brain and the mammalian brain, you can once again revisit the reptilian brain with awareness and compassion for others.  The motto, “Protect and Serve” sums up a person literate in of both these realms.  In this motto the reptilian defense mechanisms are put to use serving the pack as a whole.  If the area is suffering beyond what the servants can accomplish for the betterment of the pack, they tend to close ranks and become their own pack.   When that happens, there are no longer any Citizens On Patrol (C.O.P’s).  There is a danger in entirely exchanging service in order to become a Law Enforcement Officer.  In that shift you are not protecting and serving fellow human beings as much as you are enforcing the law.  A degree of humanity is lost and lives can be destroyed.  There is a high burn out and drop out rate for those who would serve and protect and find that the ugly underbelly of society is changing them (retreating to a less humane but easier to deal with “enforcement” role) more than they feel they can help society.

Compassion was the foundation for willingly doing the thankless tasks for those you care about.  It is also one of the access keys to the third part of the mind.  This is the area where we feel connected and compassionate.  It is also described as an area that gives us a sense of peace, altruism, and a sense of the sacred.   These things, along with the ability to plan, reason, make choices, and override the other parts of the brain (including, but not limited to, impulse control) reside in the frontal lobe.  A sense of compassion is one of the doorways to access this part of your brain It is also an indicator you are utilizing your “higher thinking” self.

The primary functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress socially unacceptable responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events.

The frontal lobes also play an important part in retaining longer term memories which are not task-based. These are often memories associated with emotions derived from input from the limbic system. The frontal lobe modifies those emotions.  We choose either to generally fit socially acceptable norms or transcend them.

Another access key to the areas of our brain responsible for delivering our “best selves” is ”thankfulness”.  Having gratitude, even for traffic jams, cold nights, and high electric bills, shifts you in to the best areas of your mind for creative solutions, memory, and problem solving.  These areas of the brain, once developed, operate much quicker than the “voice inside of our head”.  Our frontal lobes communicate with feelings, emotions, hunches, intuition, gut feelings, images charged with meaning, and the like.  It also can process many times more bits of information at the same time.  Underdeveloped or stressed brains operating from their mammalian brains often default to linear thought.  Much like outlines, our thoughts in mammalian mode are sequential to better organize our thoughts and our presentation of them.

If you can imagine the ability to strengthen and refine your intuitive senses, you have demonstrated you indeed can.  Imagery is a powerful tool to gain control of and develop your mind.  Emotions are also an important suit of tools for accomplishing the same.    Outdoor education is not about controlling your emotions. It is a tapping in to the current of emotional communication as both a receiver and projector.

Recognize the conduit that you are.  Examine your “baggage” as well as the daily unfolding of your emotional story.  It’s okay to track where they came from and how they continued through you to your loved ones and your surroundings.  Track how your choices around awareness, empathy, and personal perspective have tripped predictable emotional states within you.  Learn to adapt new responses based on different perspectives to see what new outcomes arise.  After that you can choose which “stories” to accept and which to release.  There is a quote that roughly states, ”Grant me the insight to do something about the things I can change, the patience to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two”.

We can ignore, compartmentalize, and label our failure to see emotive process as a powerful influence, but it always manages to resurface in unexpected and detrimental ways.  Suppressed, ignored, or caged long enough, those pent up processes can explode in violence, stew in addiction, or collapse into depression or PTSD.  For a species that claims to be so smart, we really are emotionally illiterate.  Our pets are far better at it than us and they’ve also endured a domestication process.

We work on this process of explosive growth through nature and outdoor education.  This is obviously not the only path toward enlightenment.

I know folks who are constantly growing   At some point a few of these active minds may have refused to surrender their continued development to a culture seemingly obsessed with conformity, or convenience.  Others kept their child like curiosity protected and found ways to let it grow.   These people are said to have a wild or free spirit.

I also see folks who stopped chasing that wild spirit.  They’ve got solid reasons to remain safe, comfortable, and stagnant.   Between the reckless abandon of flighty risk takers and the coffin like safety of our daily routine your edge awaits.  It is on that edge that we dance with our vision. Intuition speaks as loud as logic there.  You will have vibrant stories to replace the endless sea of monotony.  As you accept your vibrant feral nature you may even walk a little differently.  It is a natural side effect of becoming the hero of your own story.

To steal another quote, “The safest place for ships are the harbors, but ships weren’t made for harbors.”

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One Comment

  1. Mike Dube' July 21, 2013 at 1:53 am - Reply

    What you call the Edge we Natives call this crossroads a Sacred Place. Where/when the physical road (South to North) and the spiritual road (East to West) meet on our journey. There are many during our sacred walk. I again have learned form you, Mike D.

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