The Earth Skills Correspondence Course is a ten block course that leads students through the skills of wilderness survival, in your own bioregion. It emphasizes the mastery of shelter, water, fire, camp skills, plants and trees, cooking, safety & hazards, attitude & philosophy and instructor training. Ricardo Sierra mentors the course through e-mail, this blog and a private Facebook Group, and students are self-guided. The course provides a wealth of skills and a powerful foundation from which to build and grow in any personal or wilderness study direction.
Get more information about this learning tool here: The Earth Skills Correspondence Course

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Beneficial Side Effects of Wilderness Survival Training

As modern human beings, we are raised in environments almost completely dominated by humans.   I am talking about the majority of people, raised in our cities and suburban environments.   Artificial light.   Machine made homes, clothing, vehicles, foods, entertainment and medicine surround us.  As this has been happening at an increasing rate for the last five or six generations, our distance from the earth, from nature, continues at an alarming rate.  Society seeks to protect us from wild animals, wild insects, wild weather and the uncontrolled forces that buffeted our lives prior to our civilization.  

I am not stating this to be political.  It is a simple awareness of our natural history and our development, as a fact.   I am not saying it is right or wrong, either.  It is what it is, and human beings are in the process of deciding which of these things, these changes, are beneficial or detrimental to our lives.

At this time in our history and development, the gifts of wilderness survival, our hunter gatherer ancestors, enters the picture.   In these rapidly changing times, we are further from nature and the soil, the earth than ever before, and bringing people back into the wild provides something primal and powerful.

I have taught people wilderness skills for the last 26 years, and studied nature and native ways for over ten years prior to teaching, and I have seen what happens when students, either youth, child or adult, enter the natural world.   Learning to make fire without matches, using stones and sticks and natural fiber rope changes you inside.   Gathering the materials for a snug wild shelter and burrowing in for the night against the rain and cold, changes you.   Cooking food over a campfire and listening to the sounds of the night come alive around you, changes you.   Learning to identify plants, trees and animal tracks so intimately that they are like a part of your extended family, changes you.   This isn't anecdotal.  It is real, with lasting effects on our awareness, and our life skills.

So, this has been a long preamble to getting down to business.   In the study of nature, of tracks, of being a tracker, other things begin to happen beyond just knowing a few latin names or wild foods.   There are four things that I have seen happen.

One: Focus.   This is where you let all distractions slip away, and you begin to build your intent.   This happens when you study and observe tiny details of the coloring and shape of tree bark, of the very tips of the twigs, the scars and marks left when a leaf falls away from a bush or tree.   It occurs when you are focused on the quality and color of dark brown dust that is forming in the notch of your bow and drill fire making apparatus, as you determine if it is ready to form a burning ember.   You start learning about focus when you are alone in your shelter at night, and a shuffling noise outside wakes you out of a deep sleep, and you listen intently for the sounds of the small paws of a skunk.

Focus is a gift that comes as we allow ourselves to be absorbed by our surroundings, as it has meaning and depth, as we begin to live as our ancestors lived, close to the earth.   It gets 'real'.   But it is natural for us to relax and yet have our complete attention held by our awareness, as well as emotionally and intellectually stimulated at the same time.  Focus allows us to transcend our daily cluttered states of being and see what is important.  It is the beginning of the development of our intuitive selves.

Two: Clarity.   It comes as we spend more time in nature.   Our bodies begin to 'naturalize', and we adjust in myriad small ways to the rhythms of the wild.   Clarity is by it's nature subjective, so it is difficult to measure and determine degrees of clarity or it's development, but trust me, it is very true.   It occurs when the chaotic civilization clamor  and din begins to drift away and the sounds of nature help us get into a very deep, relaxed, almost meditative state.   It is in this state that we are deeply receptive and open in a way that is very, very difficult in our modern culture.  

Clarity is the gift that is about certainty.  It's about being sure of what you know, whether it's a feeling of the need to go to the river, or climb a tree, or build a canoe or make a gift for a friend.   Clarity is a true gift that is felt inside, and it leads to direct, powerful action.   Those actions can be internal or external, but it is a strong feeling of relief when we suddenly 'Get It' after searching for it for days, weeks or even months.  

You can't get clarity in a weekend workshop, however.  You actually have to spend time in nature, again and again, and relax, and clear your mind, and just stay in the moment.   It's something that is given when you put in the time.   It can't be rushed.  It can't be bought or sold, either.   It comes when you are ready.   And it's well worth the time you invest.

Three:  Unquenchable Inner Fire.    Why would living in the woods create an unstoppable inner force inside of us?   Well, it's very easy.   Living in the bush is simple yet complicated.  We have to solve lots of different problems on a daily basis to survive.  We have to figure out how to make a fish hook, or a dry warm bed, or how to make fire in the rain, or create snowshoes, or any number of difficult tasks.  And as we begin to solve those problems, it's pretty amazing how your inner world responds to those successes.   The further you go, the more awesome you begin to feel inside.   You begin to trust that no matter what problem is presented, you will be able to find a way to go over, around, under or through it.   And that's a great, awesome feeling that always stays with you.

It's true that the opposite feelings do occur in the wild too.  Depression at our failures, our struggles and our frustration are always with us as we work to figure it all out.   But experiencing our low states makes our successes all that much more sweet when we get that breakthrough.   We learn that it's all part of the process, and we don't have to fight those inner battles so hard or seriously.  Yes, they have their place at times, but we don't need to stay in them or listen to those pesky inner voices with the same volume if we want to solve the problem at hand.  

It's okay to have low times.  It's great to have high feelings too.   But through all this problem solving, we learn to be actual friends with ourselves.  We can enjoy and laugh at the way we learn, make mistakes and then celebrate the win.  

And since it happens almost ten times a day, that's a lot of wins.   It adds up.   It's a good thing.  

Four:  Pattern Recognition.   This might not seem like much at first, but it's really, really major when you think about it.  

In our modern world, apps are designed so we don't have to think.   Our appliances are all 'smart'.  Our cars and our modern tools are throw away models that we can't fix ourselves.   Everything is already 'set up' so we just have to paint between the lines, right?     Our schooling is figured out for us, by people supposedly smarter than us.   Our highways are designed by people smarter than us.  Our health care, our insurance, our government, our bank statements, our Facebook newsfeed, well, everything is all figured out.   We don't need much in the way of awareness to navigate this system, and it's designed for minimal personal input.   We just have to follow the herd and do what everyone else is doing.

Well, in nature, there are no lines, but if there were, they would be drawn by distant tree lines, or the arc of a curving river sand bar.   It's not predetermined where you will spend the night, or even if you will actually survive the night!   We can't just go to sleep and trust the system to take care of us.

Well, you can do that, if you like.   But you might end up dead with a raven pecking at your eyeballs.

Survival training wakes us up.  It makes us take a good long look at the natural world and pay attention, because our next step is close to a rattler, or a napping grizzly.    It makes us pay attention to the sky, because the weather that's coming can't be adjusted by turning up the thermostat.  

This is a crazy gift, when you think about.  Being awake is an amazing feeling.   It feels magical and powerful.   It lets you begin to see patterns in the water, the trees, the flow of sand or snow drifting in the wind, or the way the plants respond to rain.    Once you begin to see patterns in animal tracks, or the clouds, or the lines in your skin, you start to see them everywhere.

Yes, you start to see and recognize patterns not just the woods but in the city and your relationships.  You will see it in the media, or on websites.  You will see it in your inner dialogue, and your emotional triggers.   You will see it in your written words, or your daily habits and actions.

Being able to see these patterns allows you to understand them, if you choose.   When you take on those tasks, you start to see a much bigger pattern that lets you transcend the Matrix, so to speak.   You start to see the world differently than those who are stuck in their slumber, deep in the ruts of civilization.

I have to say that it doesn't make your life perfect if you have these experiences, and you will still have almost all of the same problems that everyone else has too, awake or asleep.   But you will have access to tools that let you overcome many of them so you aren't stuck in the same way.   You have a chance to slip out and be truly free of the pull of the herd.  

This allows you to live life differently.   You see the world differently, too.  And the way others see and experience you is also different.  They won't know what it is, but they will feel your freedom.  You will exude a different vibration, and one that feels really good.   Yes, some people will be afraid of that feeling, and stay asleep, which is fine.    There is no judgement about the life each person chooses to live.   But honestly, I have to admit it:  Being even slightly more free feels really, really, really good.

Come to the wilderness.  The water's fine!   We need you out here.  

I promise, it will be worth the leap ten times over in how you learn to navigate not just the forest but the rest of your life.


Unknown said...

I agree need to get back more to nature then video game's shopping malls etc well loose people at an alarming rate cause when the grid goes down and you can't run to Walmart its gonna be chaos Cause their not gonna know what to do get outdoors people

Ricardo Sierra said...

Thanks, Sean!

I think that video games can have their place, but we don't want to ONLY play them, right? We just need that balance, and to help kids especially to get outside and really enjoy the woods, and learn to live out there a little, and get the benefits of being out there...

Hopefully we can turn this thing around before it gets to be too crazy... We will see!

Thanks for the comment!