How Indigenous Cultures View and Deal with Stress

Defining and Dealing with Stress the Way Indigenous Cultures and Their Medicine Men and Women Have Since the Beginning of Humanity Still Works Best in Today’s Modern Cultures

Shaman Mesa and Tools

Written by Shaman Jon Rasmussen for Stress Hero Founder and The Wellbeing Manager Paul Lubicz

Stress Defined

As a modern shaman who has studied with the world’s oldest indigenous cultures and their medicine men and women, I would like to share with you my observations regarding the subject of stress.  Stress is essentially defined as a response to fear.    The stress response within the body is designed to support the natural fight, flight, or freeze reactions that are necessary for survival in a very real and usually short-lived danger.  The response creates hormonal reactions that increase focus, awareness, reaction time, and blood flow primarily to muscles and sensory organs.  In man’s natural state, as with the indigenous cultures, this response to a clear and present danger is considered to be good, normal, and healthy so much so that there is now equivalent word for stress in the primary languages.  Bad stress only occurs when the stress response continues for longer than is necessary with significant effects on overall health.

Good Stress = Real Fear, Bad Stress = Assumed Fear

The stress that we think of and experience more often in our modern society is an unhealthy aberration of the otherwise natural and healthy response to fear.  The basic reason for this that we have created fears within our own minds about things that are not happening and may not actually happen, and we keep ourselves in that mindset for prolonged periods.  A simple way to compare the indigenous and modern relationship to fear is this:

“See tiger…run!” Vs. “Suspect there may be a tiger nearby…run”!

The Stress Free Worldview of Indigenous Cultures

The fundamental worldviews and relationships with all of nature and even time itself, allows the indigenous person to stay relaxed until that which should be feared is upon them.  This is not to say that indigenous people do not plan carefully nor do all that is necessary in a reasonable time frame to thrive. But indigenous people see themselves as an integral part of a whole system that has evolved to support all of its elements to thrive.  They have default unity consciousness with all-that-is.  Therefore, their default frame of mind is well-being and security, with real fear only showing up from time to time and in short bursts.  Modern man sees themselves apart from nature and mostly in an antagonistic relationship.  One of my Q’ero elder teachers once said that white man owns the land, but time owns them; whereas, the Indio is “owned” or stewards the land, but they own time.  He would say, “Why do today, that which will take care of itself in three or four days.”

Learn From, Call Upon, and Embody Nature

Indigenous people also observe the behavior of animals to remind them of their own true instincts and wisdom.  For example, when a gazelle is chased by a lion and manages to escape, the gazelle shakes their entire body to relieve the stress response and reset the body chemistry.  The gazelle goes back to its relaxed state of eating grass as if nothing happened.  Likewise, humans can choose to “shake off” a stressful event in order to come back into healthy balance and peace of mind.

The Story You Tell Becomes Your Reality

Indigenous people have continually remembered that the perception they hold in their mind becomes their reality.  And if they want their reality to be free of unwarranted fear and therefore stress, they simply need to choose the perception that they are safe.  Modern people have largely forgotten that they create their own experience of reality through their perceptual states, and therefore choose to be in fear around any number of potentialities, for example, “I will get fired and lose everything if I do not get this project done by the deadline”, or “My spouse will leave me if I fail in any way”, and on and on.

The trick to reducing the unhealthy form of stress is to adopt the indigenous techniques of relating to nature and time in the way that allows you to have the broadest perspective, or 5,000 view of the eagle.  Allow for possibilities that your mind may not be aware of, and practice non-judgment.  If you cannot know for sure that everything will work out alright, then you cannot know for sure that bad things will happen.   By practicing non-judgment, or not knowing for sure if and event is truly imminently  dangerous or not, and allowing for the possibility that time will work in your favor, you will go a long way in eliminating the modern phenomena of unwarranted fear and prolonged unhealthy stress response.


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