Bungee Jumping and Our Schizophrenic Society
Issue #50, June 2000
It is my sincere belief that people who bungee jump are completely out of their minds. I feel the same about anyone who favors speeding down a crowded freeway at ninety in heavy traffic, getting snot-faced drunk on a hunting trip, or popping any damn thing the doctor suggests into their mouth. But there's something different about bungee jumping. People do it for fun. They put themselves in this ridiculously dangerous situation (whatever they may claim, it is both ridiculous and dangerous) in order for their fear to affect them like a drug. There's nothing inherently wrong with the judicious use of drugs, but there are beneficial and non-beneficial uses to any drug.
'Thrill seeking' activities scare the shit out of me, but they don't seem to bother a large portion of the population. However, there is one dangerous experience in my past that always brings out that look when I mention it to others ... my Vision Quest. At this point I have no doubt many people believe that going alone on foot into the hot, early summer desert for four days is insanely stupid. But there I was, two miles from any other human being with only four gallons of water, no food, a sleeping bag, a candle, and a tarp, undergoing a modern day version of a Vision Quest. It was, quite possibly an experience right up there with bungee jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
What can I say? This was my way of facing and hopefully conquering fear. Perhaps in the deepest sense, risking your life, one way or the other, is the same experience for everyone ultimately ... of course, I don't actually believe this. There are degrees of crazy, life-threatening activity. Some are stupid, some are necessary, and some are somewhere in between.
On my Vision Quest I had the backup of paid professionals. Which is why I find it easy to compare it to bungee jumping. With institutional support and insurance, such Quests are firmly in the realm of thrill-seeking activities and far outside the realm of trying to shorten your trip by two seconds by cutting off a speeding semi.
Don't get me wrong, I still won't bungee jump.
The fears I faced out in the desert were the fear of being alone, the fear of my own incompetence, the fear of snakes, sun, and spiders, as well as the fear of my own sanity and any loss or lack thereof. My goal was to test the depth of my fears and, if possible, leave them buried in the desert.
My fear of being alone was a very big issue. But as the days passed it turned into a non-issue. I had actually misunderstood that fear. I thought I was afraid to be alone, but I was wrong. You see, in our society, it's so damn hard to be alone for very long that I'd never actually had the experience. You think you are alone, but you're really just lonely. People are still bugging you all the time. Salespeople, relatives, crazy people, angry people, selfish people, nosey people ... they litter the landscape. In the desert I'd finally eliminated them all. To my surprise, many of my self-esteem problems vanished with them. Basking in the harsh desert sun, whipped by a howling wind, I found I no longer had all those 'other' voices rattling around my brain.
I was stunned to find myself calm, happy, and clearheaded about who I was and where I wanted to go with my life.
I soon learned that, although some things really did scare the shit out of me, basically I had no paralyzing fears. Well, except spiders. I am irrationally terrified of spiders. I respect and give wide them berth, but that's different from a phobia.
As for my fear of the sun, well, only an idiot will stay out in the sun until they are burnt to a crisp. So, I learned that I'm not an idiot.
In fact, in a certain way, facing fears is effectively learning that you're not an idiot by finding out that you can handle difficult situations. Learning that I really like myself, and that I'm not the root of most of my emotional problems, eased a lot of my internal insecurities about my own sanity. But, I started to really think, and not just jokingly, but I started to really come to the amazed conclusion that if I'm not crazy then a lot of other people have to be.
You see, fear only plays a useful roll in our lives so long as each of us has our fear priorities straight. On my Vision Quest I placed my fears in a tumbler and gave them a good shaking up. When I spilled them back out I had rearranged my priority list. It was a necessary and life affirming activity. It changed my life.
As I examine the society around me, I can't help but feel that a whole hell of a lot of people ought to get busy and start rearranging their fear priorities.
For instance, I fail to understand why some people are more afraid to die than to become a very expensive vegetable. Why do they assume that living on for months or years, through the intervention of medical science and the care of underpaid day workers, is any less horrible than a second or two of dying? I also don't understand why people are so afraid of being late, but have no fear of dodging through traffic. I suspect they ought to take a good look at their priorities.
When you jump out of an airplane you're telling yourself and the world that you're not afraid. It works, I believe you. But if after such a life affirming activity you turn around and speed home like a moron, you're not brave, you're stupid.
Furthermore, there is a seductive attraction to fear; it's exciting, and people seek to trigger an adrenaline rush by stimulating a fear response. To do this, they often do the same scary, stupid stuff over and over and over again. Fear exists to teach us lessons, and you're supposed to learn from fear, but many people don't seem to understand this and fail to take advantage of the opportunity, or to notice that there exists an unwritten process of differentiation. They opt for the 'rush,' ignoring the more beneficial options.
I'm glad I went on my Vision Quest, but I probably won't do it again unless I again slam into that wall of self-doubt. Fear is a tool to use, even to use like a drug, but it is important to never lose track of the fact that like any drug it can be abused.
Personally, I don't want another pointless fight-or-flight moment; I want to make it through today and be happy and content when my head hits the pillow. So I treasure fear, and understand that if I use it wisely it will keep me alive. Not many emotions can so gently guide you away from stupidity as fear, if you learn to pay attention to the lessons it is trying to teach you and can avoid becoming addicted to the 'rush'.
Sheen Brenkuss is a writer and artist in Golden Valley, Arizona. She divides her time between "Happy-Go-Lucky Farm," a halfway house for birds and animals, completing her novel, LifeSigns, and etching neo-petroglyphs.
Collage © 2000 by Dani Eurynome.