Friday, December 24, 2010

(Part 1 of 6 "Developing a Survival Attitude")

Survival. The very idea of being placed in a survival situation evokes deep feelings. The reaction it stirs in you indicates a great deal about how you would react to an unexpected situation where lives may be on the line. Could you accurately assess your ability to survive in a real survival situation? Do you have “What it takes”? And what is, “what it takes” anyway?

Biologically, or genetically, there is little more we can do beyond physical training and learning in a contrived environment. Worse, we could “read up” on survival skills and theory and give ourselves the illusion of understanding. This would allow us the dangerous assumption that, because we read it in a book, or saw a few videos on the internet, we have “what it takes”. This elusive internal quality has little to do with book learning. Even folks trained in survival skills perish in the same conditions that untrained individuals find themselves surviving. So, where are you in this spectrum?

Beyond our genetics we become who we are based on only two variables. The first is the environment we immerse ourselves in. The second is what we choose to focus on in that environment. Here are two examples to illustrate how profound these two simple components can be in creating different results for members of the same species.

Since he was young, Brad was an avid outdoorsman. His father and Uncles would take him fishing and hunting. His family was involved in Scouting. When Brad shot his first deer at thirteen, the community rallied in celebration. As a young man, Brad took up Rock Climbing, Hiking, Backpacking, and Snow Shoeing. He loved knives, rifles, archery, and camouflage. Brad learned gardening from his grandparents. As a middle aged man, Brad often reflects on his exploits, especially those times where he had to spend a few unplanned days and nights in the forest due to poor judgment, weather, or unforeseen circumstances. These memories came to him with a sense of fondness. All of this gives Brad little comfort now, at 2am. Strange groups of people stare as he walks by. Towering apartment buildings and confusing, dark streets make him feel like an alien as he tries to locate the building he was supposed to meet a friend at. They all look the same to him. Brad struggles to keep the welling panic at bay as he realizes the enormity of South Philly.

Mark, a product of Chicago, would have felt more at ease in this neighborhood. He yearns for the familiar hum and rhythm of the city. A steam shrouded sidewalk grate would indicate warmth. A church steeple might mean a shelter near by. A fast food joint would almost guarantee a dumpster full of food. Marks’ sense of order, his ability to read street signs as well as subtle body language cues, all of his finely honed urban survival strategies are failing to serve him in this alien northern woodland environment.

Brad, with all of his woodsman skills is just as lost in the city as streetwise Mark is in the natural world.

Provided they are not injured and can breath, both men require five basic elements to ensure their survival. Four of these are physical needs. The fifth, the most important element, determines how they and, more importantly, you would react in a similar situation. The first four priorities are a need to find shelter from the elements, drinking water, a source of light and heat (fire), and last on the list; food.

The fifth element; that which will compel them in to action or cripple them into complacency, is “Attitude”. Attitude is nothing less than how you view yourself in the context of your “reality”. How you view your commute, your job, your relationships, even the power and the will you believe you have to change a situation…or not. It is the reason some walk away from an event while others perish, frozen in their uncertainty and fear. It is the amount of ignorance and fear that we focus on that is our greatest undoing in the end. It is the opportunities and actions we seize that is our saving grace as well.

None of this takes place without the initial choice. In fact, it could be said that choice is one of the two “Parents” of a healthy survival attitude. But lets explore this concept within the context of your own reality. In the second paragraph of this article there was a statement, “Beyond YOUR genetics you become who you are based on the environment you immerse yourself in and what you choose to focus on in that environment.

With that in mind, lets first focus on your environment and how it shapes you. How much of your effort, intellect, and problem solving skills go directly in to providing you with adequate and safe shelter against the elements as well as protecting you from the threats in your environment? Does your landscape demand that your awareness is developed around these things, or is having a roof, climate control, and a warm bed an assumed component of your reality?

At the Maine Primitive Skills School we have a saying, “Convenience kills”. In the environment you find yourself in, if you are not actively problem solving to address your survival needs you will lack the ability to do so in a real situation. Since most of us lack the means or the will to modify our surroundings, we are left with the second component of what shapes us; what we choose to focus on in that environment. This piece makes increasing your survivability easy and fun.

During your daily routine, envision different “call to action” scenarios where you have to come up wit your own shelter, water, fire, and food. On the commute, where would you acquire these things if you were snowed in, or you were stranded on a specific section of roadway with no help available? At work, you are hit with a natural disaster the knocks out power and isolates your people from the rest of the world. What materials would you utilize and how long would they last? How would you plug in different personalities to create an optimal chance for all to make it through? Developing these questions as part of your overall routine shifts you from being the victim of someone else’s story to becoming the hero of your own journey.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Breaking the Cycle

There is an idea that a simplistic, happy life is ignorance. At first I thought it was steeped in racism, but then it occurred to me that it was more a lack of awareness when a certain paradigm came in contact with sustainable communities of equal intellect who consciously chose to live within the parameters of their landscape. In the last article if you got the idea that we are raising our kids like we raise our foods, a vast monoculture of standardized minds conditioned to respond to stimulus rather than initiate creative and intrinsic problem solving skills, than you'd be right. The institutions, born out of the industrial revolution and based in getting as many folks through the program as possible, are self perpetuating. The teacher is a product of the system that he or she facilitates. The obvious results are unquestioned, even embraced. The answer isn't change, it's catch phrases extracted from research done by fellow educators, and documentation to cover ones butt in case a "radical" challenges the idea that real learning happens in an artificial, sedentary environment where there is no intrinsic reward, emotional investment, or cultivation of natural curiosity. We see this institution take bright eyed, eager college graduates who have a passion for life and, in the same amount of time it takes an elementary school to subdue childlike curiosity and produce a glassy eyed disinterested middle schoolers, that same teacher has moved from the center of the room interacting with each student at their own level to a position behind a desk in the back of the room. We blame development for this, but again, culturally, this has been shown to be inconsistent. Well adjusted, very curious, and socially responsible adolescents abound in nomadic cultures around the globs. The impossible task of developing whole human beings in a classroom with a twenty student to one adult ratio degrades in to a cosmetic shell game. Each "seasoned teacher" knows they have about 185 days to cover the material the state requires, the district requires, the Principal requires, the parents, IEP, RTI, and standardized testing requires. Factor in grading and what's left is designated time for mentoring, challenging, and eeking out the innate curiosity about the world. Actually, what's left is a frazzled shell who fails to give up until retirement, and too often dies within the first five years after that. So how to we break free of this relatively young model of cultivating minds to conform and perform in a post industrial society? Do we really want to? School was not started with Plato and Socrates, as is normally touted. These folks had students wander the landscape and share from their direct experience. The model we work with today first manifested in Germany about 500 years ago in an effort to train members of agrarian cultures for jobs in the city. Dewey and Ford refined the process. To this day we rate our workers with grades. Grade A or "Meets the Standard" means you can perform the task well. You may be suitable for management. Grade F, and your the guy they send into the mine to see if the canary is still alive. It made sense 500 years ago. We didn't understand the many ways a person learns, or how the brain makes neural connections. Besides, the way we did it before, the invisible school, was compassion based members of our extended family allowing us to experience hardship, failure, and success in a supportive community of active and aware learners. How does one measure that? So, if your interested in breaking the cycle, for your kids, your self, your class room, your community, it's pretty easy. It's also supported by the latest in brain research and thousands of years of evolutionary processes. The latent, sometimes atrophied parts of your brain designed to utilize childlike curiosity are still in there! How many of you used to make forts as a kid, pretend to be an animal, make a bow and arrow or spear, have adventures? This genetic predisposition is nothing less than the whole bodies programming to interface with a multidimensional and dynamic organic landscape. In many educational institutions, if these traits can not be subdued by behavior modification through parental and teacher pressures, even peer pressure, than the child is medicated. Outside, these children flourish. They tend to have quicker responses, higher awareness, and an insatiable curiosity compared to the sedate industrialized minds that have "surrendered to the game". After all, the convenience of the game is what makes it alluring. Jump through the hoops, do what your told, write neatly and be on time, quiet, and respectful, and you will be handsomely rewarded. If not, hmmmmm. Sadly, the 10% who flourish in the contrived cells of the public school environment are rarely fully challenged themselves. They "do the work", but yearn for something more engaging. In fact, most students would rather be outside, or participate with more of their senses in meaningful interactions with their environment. We know this, and have known it with increasing realization since the early eighties. Most of the efforts to bring real learning in to public schools falls flat as a fad, again, due to brain patterning on the old way and convenience. "Convenience kills" doesn't only refer to a sedentary life, but a sedentary routine, mindset, awareness level, perspective, passion, body, and being. Movement, joy, pain and the sense that one is the hero of an amazing story instead of the victim of (fill in the blank). As a mentor, I would rather have a sneering, "How do you know" over a "Why do we have to learn this" any day. The first is based in inquisitiveness, the latter is based in a sense of futility. How does this all relate to "Breaking the Cycle of Empires"? By focusing on our species' true source of wealth, the health and well being of our children (collectively and as a community) and the environments they're raised in, we change the paradigm. The world of talented mechanics, engineers, farmers, midwives, herbalists, naturalists, and so on becomes an endless resource of mentoring talent. There is a LOT more though. We have to reclaim some of the wisdom we threw out with our pre-industrial ancestry. Cultural tools that bring awareness to a point of compassion, connection, and empathy, grief recognition and resolution technologies that strengthen the community, and whole person experiences designed to increase understanding of the world and ones role in it that are based on first hand interpretation are just a few of these elements. The rest are coming in the next article. Until then, push buttons, take people out of their comfort zone, and have at least one adventure each day that is not only worth writing about, but worth reading. For more information, instructional videos, details about our staff, school, or courses, please visit

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cycle of Empires

Every great civilization follows a pattern. It is a redundancy that is lost to the generations who have yet to live it because it spans multiple generations. It is a cycle that provides important clues to our Nations development and the development and end result of a "Global Economic Community". The Great Gardens of Babylon, The Empire of Egypt, the Heart of Greece, Rome, and so many others, once nestled in fertile river valleys, were able to expand their power and influence far and wide. Each time, the success of the people was attributed to technology, the mind, the government...but never the lush habitat's that supported the raw material, the food, the leisure time to think these great thoughts. We see this on a micro scale in our cities. Young and vibrant at first, the city attracts the artists, the business folk, the entrepreneur. A young city is exiting, vibrant, full of story rife with opportunity...Newark, Watts, South Philly...these places are not what they used to be. Any elder not shut in to their own apartment behind five dead bolts can tell you, things were different. The cycle is inevitable when following a certain perspective. It comes when we forget our interconnection with the landscape. The environment is a reflection of our own health and stability. When we are out of balance, our physical reality reflects this in the way we deal with it. Currently, there are children who fear the woods, are told to never go outside without shoes, have never walked under a star lit sky looking for the big dipper. We expect 30 acres worth of biomass to appear in a bag in a drive through in less than a minute without a thought. Our standard of living and our numbers are so out of synch with the amount of energy consumed by other apex species, that many of them are already gone, and many more are on their way out. Wolves, Tigers, Lions, Leopards, Jaguars, Cougars...they are lessons to the limits of carrying capacity on the landscape and what happens when the capacity is exceeded. Sadly, their demise may do little to stop what seems to be a runaway train. Folks seem helpless, just smart enough to realize the futility of "going green" or to frightened to explore the history and science of what happens to any species that overspecializes, overpopulates, or exhausts it's "resources". In the surviving oral tradition of cultures on every continent the "caretaker" attitude was ingrained in the young through the wisdom of the elders. The idea of living with the awareness that our actions effect the unborn future generations is evidenced in story, song, and legend. Yet, we pattern on things that replace the hunt and the gather. We see no value in the ones who have gone before, they can't even set the clock on the DVD player. We have turned our wisdom keepers in to cute and cuddly grandparent's at the very best, and folks to be marginalized at the other end of the spectrum. Today it is hard to find a true Elder. We see a lot of folks at the end of their life, bitter that they worked so hard to "make a living" that they realize only at the end the gift of truly being alive and present. As a result, what was already hard to hear in the innocents and arrogance of youth, is impossibly drowned out by the technology we plug in to. We hear endless stories of tragedy and disaster on the news and then are told during each commercial break that we would only feel better if we bought "this" product. Look around, people are in debt and still buying the next item that will surely make them happy, fill the void, provide the distraction from that certain annoying nagging on their conscience. Rare is the individual who is secure enough in their own identity to be able to sit alone without distraction, without T.V., music, or the Internet, and just quietly enjoy being present. Instead, we shop and work, not for our families directly, but for a person or people who have often conflicting motivations and a less than intrinsic rewarding goals. We come home too tired to a family to distracted by after school, extra meetings, the television, whatever, to sit and share stories around the table (modern version of the campfire) and just be present with each other. Our communities are dependent on distant communication rather than face to face exchanges. The results are institutionalized minds that perceive more out of fear, grief, or hopelessness rather than the heroes journey so common in our ancestral traditions. This is all part of the cycle of nations. It has a predictable ending, but only if the perceptions that perpetuate it continue. We know the consequences, we know the base existence of the survivors of these "decrescendos". So why don't we, the most intelligent (and humble) species to grace the Earth do something to prevent this formula from playing it again on an unprecedented scale? It's not greed, or laziness. It's brain patterning. We expect doors to be a certain with, burgers to taste a certain way, time to be at a certain pace and meter, routines to be regular and interuptions to be few and addressed quickly. Whenthese things don't happen, we feel uncomfortable. When the car doesn't start, or the power goes out, or the cook gets our order wrong, we feel slighted, uncomfortable, wronged. We have become shackled to our convieniences. Without need, time, or familiarity, many have lost the hunger and skills to gather food from the landscape, and with that, the connection that lanscape provided. A sense of purpose, belonging, and deep rooted community is becoming a rare commodity. And we continue to attempt to fill the void with "stuff". But don't be sad, there is a way out....a way to break the cycle(and no this is not a sales or religious pitch). And, it's free, it's personal and it's something you can share or keep to yourself. In fact, it starts with developing your own awareness and making a choice to commit to unplugging from "the Matrix" and reconnecting with what is real and important in your own life..It's hard, but it's always worth it. Remember, convienience kills. This will help as we explore some options in the next article.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Maine Primitive Gathering 2010

Wilderness Survival and Primitive Skills Instructors from all over the Northeast converge to share skills with the public.