Friday, October 20th 2017

Into the Wild and the hero’s journey

Camping out in a tent in California’s coastal ranges, near the spot where Robert Louis Stevenson honeymooned, puts a different spin on the myth of mother earth

smadar-de-lange.jpgBY SMADAR DE LANGE — Can you escape from society? Does being a hermit have a transcendental value? Does nature unlock the secrets to spirituality?

There is an American tradition, going back to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond — and re-expressed in Sean Penn’s 2007 movie, Into the Wild — that honors rustic solitude as something sacred.

The concept of freedom in Western Civ has gotten mixed up in the Wild West with the image of the Marlboro Man, the stoic dude riding in solitude toward the horizon — or in another cultural image, a mountaineer challenging the immense force of nature, all alone at the peak of a mountain. (Or, conversely, Daniel Day Lewis with a pick inside a shale shaft in his Oscar-winner, There Will Be Blood).

Have you ever wondered why these symbols have such staying power?

What is it that we imprint on them — or the counter-culture’s Easy Rider re-imagining of the archetype? (Riding a motorcycle along an empty road into an unknown distance.)

Many would answer that we share a collective wish to get away from each other — from the rotten civilization we’ve evolved and congealed, to the simplicity and truth that naturally existed at the beginning of the human era.

The truth is, this kind of concept is not about noble truths but a highly-intellectualized ideal. It’s a counter-measure to a realization we all have had: the lack of meaning in the human effort to get somewhere and to achieve some goal — what writers like Sartre made famous by calling an existential crisis.

Is it really possible to escape society? Does society exist outside of us? Aren’t we part and parcel of the society with which we have a love-hate relationship? Even if we disagree with the current paradigm, isn’t it that our reaction is really another aspect of our very deep dependence on the existing paradigm?

When we are isolated in nature, we still observe and act according to ideas, beliefs, concepts and perceptions based on the molded experiences of being part of society. Our own family is our first experience of society. And consider this: if one is isolated, being a hermit on a remote mountain in a cave away from civilization, that individual is still connected to the collective consciousness of our species.

Is freedom a geographical place, or is it a state we are carrying within us?

Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and many others emphasized the metaphor of the hero’s journey towards the achievement of individuation, owning one’s Self.

For many people, spending time in nature contributes to realizations and insightful understandings about oneself. However, nature itself is not the goal. It can be the medium, but not the message.

Smadar de Lange is a somatic therapist and doctoral candidate in psychology at Santa Barbara’s Pacifica Graduate Instiute.

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2 Comments on “Into the Wild and the hero’s journey”

  1. In Edge of the sacred: Transformation in Australia, a sadly out-of-print gem by David J Tacey, he discusses the desire to go into the outback to have a “spiritual experience”, only to be disappointed because the spiritual experience isn’t there. Instead, what is there is a kind of emptiness or lack of external stimulus that allows the unconscious to surface. The only value, I believe, in ‘getting away from it all” is minimizing the external stimulus so that the internal can manifest. An experience of the sacred happens when we are able to tune out the chatter of our mind and the static of the world and open up our awareness to the “sacred channel” which is ever present but rarely perceived.
    The individuation that Jung and Campbell speak of isn’t one of “separateness” but one of finding our own unique role (based on our own talents, interests, personality, etc.) in the larger picture of life’s or spirit’s evolution. The hero’s quest always brings them back to the community, often as a teacher, healer, or shamen. As Smadar de Lange points out, we can never escape society. Indeed our function in going out (being lead out) into the wilderness is to come back to the society with new information or new vision.

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