Mechanisms for personal transformation in wild environments / by Andrew Kable

Wild environments provide a number of mechanisms by which personal change can be facilitated.

1. The first is simply the removal of the individual from their everyday environment into a place where the normal stimuli are absent. Escaping from the expectations and pressures of daily life gives a person time to be reflective...a vital part of any change process. A wild environment will have no communications access to the outside world.

2. A second mechanism for transformation is contact with the Sublime. When taken away from the safety and comfort of environments that are designed for people, and in the presence of the power and indifference of the wild, participants often feel a kind of awe. This may take the form of fear or ecstasy, but is always tied up with an appreciation that the individual is part of a greater whole, something bigger.

3. The third mechanism is the taking on of unfamiliar challenges. Wild environments often require additional effort to meet the basic needs of life; water, food and shelter. There is likely to be discomfort and close contact with the elements, as well as an unfamiliar level of physical exertion.

4. A fourth mechanism is the opportunity to observe the natural world. There are few distractions, and many opportunities to observe ecology in action.

5. Finally, being in a wild place with other people makes you highly dependent on those around you. The absence of distraction, and the absence of other people means you have to engage with those around you much more closely. It is a unique opportunity to engage with people.

These mechanisms can be used to take the participants through a process of change. Being away from their normal lives and the presence of the Sublime provide the right environments for participants to challenge their preconceptions and existing mental models of the world.

Facilitators can use the fact that participants have no easy way out to carefully construct challenges that put participants under some pressure. If managed well, participants can come away from these experiences feeling empowered.

More interestingly, if facilitated correctly, participants can come away with a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, or with the appreciation that there is a different way of seeing or doing things. If the participants are briefed to maintain an awareness of their own behaviours, and then promptly debriefed after the event, then they may well make a Gestalt Shift in awareness.

The Gestalt Shift is a change in an individual's way of seeing or interpreting the world, which causes that person to look at all their past experiences in a new light. That shift presents a window of opportunity for true change.